When Jason Varitek arrived to Boston in 1997 from Seattle with Derek Lowe in exchange for Heathcliff Slocumb, no one could have predicted that the organization was acquiring their captain and a two-time champion of the future. Varitek was an afterthought of sorts with the Mariners because the team had their own catcher the of future and were not afraid to take a chance on dealing for a true closer.
It goes down as one of the best trades in Red Sox history and pretty soon we will find out if it will continue to pay dividends or if the final chapter of a storied career is over. You can thank Dan Duquette for prying Varitek away from Seattle, but you can also thank a lot of circumstance.
And if you are a Mariners fan, it’s a lot different. As John Levesque from the Seattle Post-Intelligencer said, you can go ahead and…Blame Dan Wilson.
On behalf of Red Sox fans I would like to say, thank you Dan Wilson.
Thank you for being in the right place at the right time and thank you for giving the Mariners enough confidence in you to deal Varitek to Boston. It’s hard to imagine the 2004 World Series without him. The Alex Rodriguez face mash when Varitek smashed his mitt into the chops of the Yankees third baseman which set off a brawl and seemed to ignite the 2004 Red Sox. He was so instrumental to that year and helped guide the band full of ‘idiots’ that ran around in Red Sox uniforms. Let us not forget Varitek’s tying two-run homer in the sixth inning of Game 2 of the Division Series against Angels that year or and his two-run triple off Cardinals starter Matt Morris in Game 2 of the World Series that propelled the team to a 6-2 win.
15 years later we are wondering what will become of him. Was 2011 his last year as a player in the big leagues? Varitek has transitioned into a backup role as year pushes age 40 and his contract has expired in Boston. This really may be the end of a Red Sox legend. Is it in him to play another year at Fenway Park or will it be Ryan Lavarnway starting his big league career while Varitek hangs them up? I can envision it either way.
It’s hard to imagine him in another uniform and I find it very unlikely that he would ever play anywhere else, but you can’t rule it out. Though he may not have more than 200 ABs left in him, he does have some pop left in the bat and can manage a game and pitching staff as good as anyone. There may be a role for him somewhere on a young team with nothing to lose.
Assuming Varitek wants to play in a limited role again in 2011 and let’s say Ben Cherington and Co. decides to let him go, what would they be losing?
Varitek is one of the worst catchers in baseball at throwing out runners and has been allowing an average of more than one per game since 2009. Prior to that year, he allowed around 0.5 stolen bases per game. Once the League realized they could run on him, it was over for that aspect of his game.
He also strikes out a lot and posted back-to-back seasons of 30% k-rate making it a pipe dream that he could hit .230 in a limited role. His groundball to fly ball ratio is nearly even. Varitek usually either hits the ball on the ground weakly or hits a fly ball. His 15% line drive illustrates his struggles to put good wood on the ball. He’s an asset for power at the catcher position, but offensively – not much else.
Varitek did post a walk rate of 9% in 2011 (10% is average) so his ability to judge the strike zone has not completely eroded, but his ability to actually MAKE contact is getting worse and worse. In September, Varitek struck out at a rate of 40% and then had his season ended a week early due to injury. A sustained strikeout rate that high would not even make Varitek rosterable.
One of the nice things that Varitek has done late in his career is that that he has sold out for power. He knows his contact rate is going to limit him so over the last few years, he has developed into a nice power profile which is important because he has a lot of other glaring flaws. And without it he’d again be unrosterable. Although the counting stats are not comparable, the raw output of homeruns to flyballs is similar to that of 2003 when Varitek hit 25 home runs with 85 RBI.
Whatever happens with Varitek in 2012 is probably not of great impact to the team. If he comes back on a one year deal, you can expect him to log 175 ABs while Jarrod Saltalamacchia takes over control. Meanwhile, Lavarnway can continue to develop in Pawtucket until an injury or production forces the Red Sox’ hands.
54 games played
68 stolen bases allowed
Based on what you can expect from a 40-year old catcher, it might best to move on. It’s Lavarnway time but it’s always great to remember how important Varitek has been to the Boston Red Sox and how lucky we were to have him.
He was one of the great commanders in team history and was acknowledged as such by his teammates. “Ladies and gentlemen,” Curt Schilling said after the Sox had swept the Cardinals, “here is the leader of the 2004 Boston Red Sox.”