Boston Red Sox

Boston Red Sox

Thursday, January 08, 2009

Red Sox Still Trying to Catch Up

Free agent catcher Greg Zaun has made his feelings clear: he would love to play for the Red Sox.

"My agent has had ongoing talks with Boston and I would love to see that happen. I would also love the challenge of playing in Boston, where every day you go to the ballpark it's a meaningful game and you're fighting for something. That atmosphere, I'm telling you, there's nothing like it, and to be a part of that would be unbelievable."

However, since the Red Sox are concerned about Jason Varitek's age and offensive decline, Zaun would hardly represent an upgrade. While it's wonderful that Zaun would love to play in Boston, the Red Sox had better have a much better plan in mind; the veteran is an even greater offensive liability that Varitek.

While Varitek will be 37 on Opening Day, Zaun will be 38 at that time. And as a lifetime .251 hitter who has never hit more than 12 homers in any of his 14 seasons, Zaun is not exactly an offensive force.

Despite his age, Zaun says he still feels fresh.

"You have to understand, I spent the first eight years of my career on the bench. I'm not the kind of guy in my mid 30s who is coming off several years of catching 100 or more games a year. Don't have the wear and tear that other guys my age have. My only other hobby other than playing baseball is taking care of myself. I'm in great physical condition and I'm built to catch as much as any team wants me to."

The Orioles have been the most aggressive suitor for Zaun, but the Red Sox remain interested. It's worth noting that Josh Bard's one-year, $1.7 million deal is not guaranteed.

It makes you wonder about the Sox' inside plan. Pitchers and catchers report in just five weeks, and there is still just one catcher with any considerable big league experience on the roster. According to GM Theo Epstein, negotiations with Varitek continue and all options remain on the table.

"There's still some unfinished business," Epstein said. "Jason is still out there. As I said at the beginning of the offseason, he's been a really important guy here to this organization and by no means have we shut the door on him. There's still some unfinished business there."

And Epstein also said that the Sox remain open to the idea of a youth movement behind the plate this season, noting they are "in the pursuit of a younger catcher."

"We have the two young guys who combined to form a pretty good platoon last year at Pawtucket in George Kottaras and Dusty Brown," Epstein said. "And we brought in Josh Bard on a one-year deal, someone that we really trust to run a staff and call a game and has been a significant part of the catching solution for a good team in this league and done a nice job. We see him factoring into the equation for sure."

But does anyone really believe that the Sox will enter this season with some combination of Bard, Kottaras or Brown? I, for one, don't buy it.

Varitek has now lost all bargaining leverage due to a lack of interest on the open market. He will long regret not taking the Sox' offer of arbitration, which would have netted him at least $10 million this year. If he lowers his demands, he may still get a one-year deal, perhaps with an option.

Obtaining Miguel Montero from Arizona, or either Jarrod Saltalamacchia or Taylor Teagarden from Texas, could be costly. Both clubs continue to ask the Sox for promising young pitcher Clay Buchholz in exchange. Despite his struggles last season, the Sox clearly remain high on Buchholz, or a deal would have been consummated by now.

The Sox are obviously waiting for the price to come down and are more open to trading Michael Bowden or Daniel Bard, in particular. The Rangers are in favor of keeping Teagarden, believing he is the more promising of their three young catchers (Max Ramirez is the other). Yet, they are in need of pitching and have made no additions to a staff that had a league-worst 5.37 ERA last year.

So if a deal is to be made, expect it to be Daniel Bard for Saltalamacchia in the next couple of weeks.

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