Boston Red Sox

Boston Red Sox

Sunday, January 18, 2009

There's Got to be a Catch(er)

There were some very interesting developments in the Jason Varitek / Red Sox negotiations on Friday night.

Firstly, it was reported that Varitek personally requested a meeting with Red Sox owner John Henry. Secondly, the owner flew to meet the player in Atlanta, as opposed to Varitek coming to Boston. Thirdly, it was a one-on-one meeting; Varitek’s agent, Scott Boras, was not present.

This begs two questions that are essentially one and the same: How bad is the relationship between Varitek and Boras at this juncture, and how bad is the relationship between the Red Sox and Boras?

To that point, when asked by a TV reporter on Friday night how his relationship with Boras is these days, Henry replied, "What relationship?” before measuring his words and concluding with, “I probably shouldn't comment."

You have to figure Varitek feels pretty disenchanted with Boras right now, and must feel quite misled by him. With the absence of any market for his services, rejecting arbitration was absolutely horrible advice. The free agent turned down $10-$12 million with that ill-advised decision.

If Varitek feels that he has been poorly represented by Boras, it won’t be the first time a player has felt similarly about the agent; Gary Sheffield walked away from Boras and negotiated his own deal with the Yankees in 2003.

Despite the meeting between Henry and Varitek, word is that the Red Sox continue to explore trade talks with the Texas Rangers and Arizona Diamondbacks, regarding Jarrod Saltalamacchia and Miguel Montero, respectively.

Sean McAdam, of the Boston Herald, reported, “There are lingering doubts about [both] young receivers and their readiness to solve the team’s long-term catching problems.”

If so, that’s quite interesting.

Naturally there will be concerns about a young catcher handling a staff of young, inexperienced pitchers, coupled with seasoned veterans, on a team that expects to contend. But it would be particularly strange, and quite revealing, if the Red Sox do indeed have "long-term" concerns about the position.

There are inherent doubts about virtually every young player; it's simply part of the game. Projections are all based on guess work and assumptions. Some guys burn out quickly and never fulfill their promise Do the Sox have these concerns about Saltalamacchia and Montero?

Even if Varitek returns this season, he'll be gone in a year or two, making room for a young successor. Someone else has to take over eventually, and it seems that Saltalamacchia, in particular, is about as good a catching prospect as there is in the game today. The prevailing wisdom is that he has more upside, at least offensively, than Montero.

Unless the Red Sox are determined to continually explore the open market and sign the best available veteran free agent (meaning they’ll be paying big money to an aging player), they eventually have to go with a young catcher.

Why wouldn’t they? The Red Sox have entrusted key positions to young, inexperienced players such as Kevin Youkilis, Dustin Pedroia, Jacoby Ellsbury, Jonathan Papelbon, and Jed Lowrie. Those decisions have worked out pretty well. And it’s exactly how Varitek came to be the team leader in the first place.

Whomever the Red Sox employ to work in tandem with Josh Bard, be it Varitek, Saltalamacchia, Montero, or George Kottaras, they should be able to get at least league-average production from that duo.

Last year, the league average for AL catchers was: .258/.322/.393

The question is whether the Red Sox feel comfortable entrusting their pitching staff, crafted from a mix of experienced veterans and inexperienced youth, to a relatively inexperienced catcher?

The Red Sox have a lot invested in that deep and talented staff. It is, perhaps, the heart of the team, its greatest strength. Would management go with Bard, plus a young, untested catcher who would essentially be receiving on-the-job training?

Bard's contract isn't guaranteed, so the Sox could still re-sign Varitek and simultaneously trade for his heir-apparent.

So which of these various alternatives will it be?

It won’t take long to find out. Pitchers and catchers report on February 14.

Copyright © 2009 Sean M. Kennedy. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed without the author’s consent.


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