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What If...

Jason Varitek does not return next season?

Despite the hole in the catching position in the '09 Red Sox roster, they still have managed to make some stealthy moves this offseason. However, they have not added much depth in terms of catching, despite the apparent need for it.

If Varitek was to return, it would only strengthen the team, especially with new pitchers, in Brad Penny and John Smoltz, to work with. According to the Boston Globe, during Varitek's meeting with owner John Henry last Friday, a contract was put on the table, however, there are no details as to how much the deal is worth, or how long it is for. Because Varitek turned down arbitration, teams are now hesitant to sign the veteran catcher, and thus give up their first round draft pick.

Even with a contract supposedly on the table, after waiting this long, there is a good change Varitek won't come back. Josh Bard looks to be the primary backup catcher [and starting catcher if Varitek fails to return], after playing in only 57 games last season with the Padres. Although having a productive year offensively in 2006 [with the Padres] (with a .338 batting average in 93 games), his career numbers (as well as last two seasons) are lacking. It appears Varitek's age and poor offensive season are preventing the Sox from resigning Varitek to a long term deal, however, the solution is not to completely replace him with Bard, despite the six year age difference. Offensively, he is not stronger than Varitek and he does not have the experience needed to act as a full-time catcher for the Sox, given their slim depth left in the farm system [in terms of catchers]. Bard is not a bad backup catcher, with six years of experience under his belt, defensively, he is a reliable pick. Offensively, he is a switch hitter, like Varitek, and could hopefully provide consistency to the Red Sox lineup.

In addition to Bard, the Sox have Dusty Brown, George Kottaras and Mark Wagner, all of whom have three games of experience between them (all belonging to Kottaras). After the letting Doug Mirabelli and Kevin Cash go, the Sox' options for a catcher are slim and risky. True, they have been incredibly smart (or lucky) with their prospects, such as Kevin Youkilis and Dustin Pedroia. The front office needs to decide if they want to invest the upcoming season to perfecting catchers in the farm system, or bring back Varitek and allow Bard to act as a backup catcher, as well as building up catching in the farm system.

With 20 days until pitchers and catchers report, Varitek and the Sox are walking on thin ice. The Red Sox want Varitek for less money and less years, however, they can't have their cake and eat it, too. 'Tek is reportedly asking for a two year contract and received 10.4 million last year (almost $6,000 less than he made the previous season where he played better). After getting rid of heavyweight Manny Ramirez, the Sox have managed to get their payroll down, and surely can afford this short and cheap of a contract to someone who provided them with 11 seasons of work. However, as the clock ticks down to the start of spring training, any thing could happen.

Rani Smith


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