One of the lesser talked about mates of the Red Sox this year has been Jason Varitek, which is curious considering that he’s making a large chunk of money and is, according to several different sources, the most important member of the Red Sox right now.

The last time we talked about Varitek, it was May 9th and I was wondering if it was the end of the line for Tek. I said:

His numbers on the season prior to last nightǃÙs game: .240/.318/.347. That is worse than his 2006 season, which is the season that raised many concerns among Red Sox fans, after he finished at .238/.325/.400 in 103 games, his lowest total since 2001, when he broke his elbow diving for a foul ball.

Since then, Varitek has quieted the rumbling to the point that we’ve simply stopped noticing him. I’ve noticed a lack of publicity — good or bad — about Varitek this year, which means he’s doing enough to not warrant criticism, but not doing enough to be thrust in the forefront.

Here are his month by month statistics, followed by his cumulative line:

April – .239/.325/.358

May – .311/.416/.541

June – .234/.322/.403

July – .294/.398/.368

August – .241/.317/.352

Cumulative – .265/.359/.409 (.229/.336/.333 since the All-Star Break)

This is not good. He seems to alternate good months with bad, but even his good months aren’t that good. It’s plainly obvious: Varitek has lost all semblance of power. If he continues on his current progression, he is projected to finish the season with 18 doubles, four triples, 14 HR and 71 RBI. His 18 doubles would be the lowest since his 11 in his injury-shortened 2001, and his 13 in 221 AB in his rookie year for the Red Sox. In other words: the lowest of any year in which he appeared in at least 100 games.

His homers would be his third lowest, and that’s with him on pace to appear in 137 games. He had 12 homers in 103 games last year. If you throw out last year, it will be his lowest tally since 2002, when he was recovering from a broken elbow and 2000, the year before he busted out. Let’s look at triples. Believe it or not, he’s already set a career season-high for triples with three. Go figure, huh? His RBIs are staying around the norm, basically because he’s always hit sixth or seventh in the order (over 1,000 at-bats in these spots).

All in all, his OPS will check in at .768, which is better than last year (thanks to the horrific .238 average last year). Factoring in his injury-marred 2001 season and rookie year, it will be his fifth lowest OPS.

Here’s how good Varitek was and could have been: if he hadn’t been hurt in 2001, which definitely contributed to his subpar 2002 and he posted a “normal” stat line that he did in 2001 and 2003-5, he would have had five straight seasons of OPS’ around .860. For comparison’s sake, only Jorge Posada (talk about the contract year!) and Victor Martinez are out-OPSing .860.

I hate watching Jason Varitek these days, because it’s apparent he’s not capable of doing enough damage anymore. Look at the doubles total. 18. 18. Every starter has already passed 18, and only the bench players lag behind Varitek in this category.

Throughout all this, we need to remember something, though; even though his lack of production is stark considering his history and overall offensive contribution while factoring in other positions, he is still good enough to be one of only 11 catchers to qualify for the batting title. Of those 14, he ranks seventh in overall OPS. This means, offensively, he is the seventh best hitting catcher. Factor in his play-calling, his defense, his leadership … it’s easy to see why he’s considered the best, or at least in the top three, catcher in the game.

I suppose the point of this article is to just point out how much Varitek has tailed off offensively. He’s been the seven-hole hitter basically all year long, but I think that it’s time to start viewing him as the eight-hole hitter. However, it’s also important to realize that just by showing up to the park every day and being below average with the bat makes him an above average catcher. As for the things that are not easily quantified? The defense, pitch-calling, leadership? Off the charts, and coveted by many around the league. Current and former Red Sox players rave about Varitek. There’s a reason for this.

So, I’ve decided that the offense doesn’t matter to me. As long as he’s not a black hole (black hole: OPS under .700), I support Jason Varitek as a member of the Boston Red Sox. The one thing I can’t support, however, is his contract. $10 million a year is set aside for the creme de la creme, and Varitek jumped on that contract at the perfect time: coming off a World Series win and with one more great year left in the tank.

I am in no way advocating that we make Jason Varitek depart after his contract expires in 2008 … but his next contract better be a healthy cut under $10 million. A cut as in … cut in half.

To round out this post, I thought I’d rattle off the names of every principal catcher in the Sox system as sort of a glimpse into what we have in the pipeline should Varitek depart and we not plug the hole via trade:

AAA: George Kottaras (age 24), .237/.315/.400 (he’s been improving these numbers)

AA: John Otness (25), .197/.239/.240

Hi-A: Mark Wagner (23), .315/.405/.528 (this is in hitter-friendly Lancaster)

Mid-A: Jon Still (22), .292/.432/.542 (spending most of his time at 1B, just promoted to Hi-A)

Mid-A: Paul Smyth (24), .319/.357/.560 (just converted to catcher from the outfield)

Mid-A: Jon Egan (20), .201/.315/.402 (On the DL for much of 2007)

Low-A: Ty Weeden (19), .243/.311/.361

The only bright spot looks to be Still, and he’s going to end up a first baseman. Ouch.

The results of the poll that ask who should be our fifth hitter in our Fire Brand created lineup ended up not being even close. Mike Lowell ran away with the vote, getting 72 percent of all votes. J.D. Drew trailed, getting 20 percent, and Kevin Youkilis brought up the rear at seven percent. Youkilis’ horrific slump, which I will not talk about (la la la, can’t hear you), is definitely hurting his candidacy in this perfect lineup.

Next up is who bats… sixth! Is it J.D. Drew? Kevin Youkilis? Jason Varitek? Julio Lugo? You decide.