It's beginning to look more and more like Jason Varitek will be back with the Red Sox. Oh, don't get me wrong, there's been no actual progress in their continued negotiations, but the fact that they're still at the table suggests both sides are serious about making his return to Boston happen.
Let's be frank: For all of his past accomplishments, Varitek currently has zero leverage, not after making the enormous mistake of declining arbitration, which would have resulted in a one-year, eight-figure contract. The Red Sox could easily put a "take it or leave it" offer on the table and wait for Spring Training. Instead, they're maintaining a dialogue, a show of respect to a player that's been their team captain the last four years.
Varitek hasn't received any serious offers elsewhere around the league (the Dodgers showed mild interest but instead signed Brad Ausmus), in part because his biggest contributions (leadership! grit!) can't be quantified and are apparently best appreciated by those who see him suit up every day. Curt Schilling has been Varitek's biggest cheerleader all winter, and yesterday Jonathan Papelbon made his preference known, as well. From an interview on Comcast SportsNet, via the Projo Sox Blog:
"There's certain players in major-league baseball . . . that you take a gamble on, whether it's age or whether it's money. Varitek is, no question about it, in that category," he said. "I don't care who you bring in or who you take out; there's certain stabilities, not only in the clubhouse but on the field as well, and he's not part of, he's the main stability in that clubhouse and on the field. Whether it's a money issue or whether it's an age issue, there's no question in my mind whatsoever. You make that gamble with a person like that. It's that simple to me."
The Red Sox have had no qualms in the past about cutting ties with revered veterans whose salary demands grew to exceed their current contributions, but I wonder if they have to make an exception for Varitek, one of only three players in team history ever to be named team captain.
If they give him what 80 percent of what he could have earned in arbitration and include a club option for 2010 to make up the rest and then some, the team could plug a hole in their depth chart (right now, Josh Bard is the only catcher with experience on the roster) while allowing Varitek to both save face and potentially bounce back.