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O' Captain My Captain

Pitchers and catchers report to spring training in 24 days, and yet the Red Sox still have failed to resign catcher Jason Varitek, despite the desire on both sides' to bring the veteran back to Boston. Varitek met with owner John Henry on Friday for 90 minutes according to the Boston Globe, however, in proper Red Sox fashion, no details of the meeting were disclosed.
Obviously, a .220 average is nothing to boast about, and 36 is not the age to resign a slumping player to a long term deal and if this was any one else, the Sox would drop him in a heartbeat. However, Varitek's contribution to the team goes far beyond stats, and moreover, the Red Sox will need him if they intend to make a push in '09, despite his flaws.
Baseball is a numbers game, whether that be determining statistics or money. However, what Varitek has done in 12 seasons with the Red Sox is undeniably in spite of his numbers. His career average is below .300 and even when the Sox won the World Series in 2004 and 2007, Varitek's numbers were still sub-par. Nevertheless, his command of the plate and ability to manage the Sox somewhat inconsistent pitching staff is the prime reason the Red Sox beat the curse and repeated in '07.
Although the Sox have already signed Josh Bard and have prospects in the minors they would love to experiment with, now is certainly not the time to be stingy. After the Yankees inked Mark Teixeira, C.C. Sabathia and A.J. Burrnett, the Red Sox, theoretically, are no longer top dog in the AL East. Despite signing veteran John Smoltz, Brad Penny and Rocco Baldelli, the Sox need a veteran, proven man behind the plate to call the game and protect the plate. A team can have the best hitters in the game but if their catcher fails to call the right pitches and stop the run, hitting won't matter--which the Yankees have exemplified, failing to win the World Series since 2000, despite signing high-profile players at record costs. Needless to say, it is not a coincidence that Varitek is the only catcher in history to catch 4 no hitters.
In terms of money, the Red Sox have made some, hypothetically, smart deals, though we will have to wait until the regular season to see if it pays off. The Red Sox, rightfully so, have been cautious to sign Varitek to a longer term deal, thus only offering him a two year deal. 'Tek made $10.4 million in 2008, playing strong defensively, but having one of the worst offensive seasons in his career. However, in baseball terms, $10.4 million is pennies, considering the Yankees paid Rodriguez $21.7 million in 2004, where he had arguably his worst season since his days in Seattle. The Red Sox will have to take a chance with Varitek, and hope that his offensive numbers improve. Money-wise, he's a good investment-- relatively inexpensive and despite offensively slumping, providing strong defensive behind the plate. Because of the Red Sox strong offensive lineup, frankly, they can afford to keep Varitek in the lineup. He's never been in the lineup because of his bat, and the Sox need to focus on the defensive-side of their team in order to improve for the upcoming season. The Sox were twenty-forth in the league with 85 errors, and as every sports fan knows, no team can win without defense, which Varitek offers.
The Captain's tenacity and bulldog-like demeanor behind the plate is what makes him an exceptional baseball player. What he does defensively, improves every aspect of the game, and always keeps the Red Sox in the game. The Red Sox have the chance to prove that baseball is not all about money and stats, but about heart and drive. Varitek is a risk, but overall, a worthwhile investment.

Rani Smith


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