Jason Varitek will be back for his 15th season with the Red Sox in 2011, after agreeing to a one-year, $2 million contract that includes $300,000 in incentives based on playing time.
Varitek got off to a hot start over the first two months of last season, with seven homers and a 1.024 OPS. However, he hit just .163 after that great start and missed substantial time due to a foot injury.
The veteran catcher was on the DL from July 2 through September 6, and was limited to just 39 games. He finished the season batting .232, with seven homers and 16 RBIs.
Despite turning 39 in April, Varitek is still an able back-up and the ideal mentor to 25-year-old Jarrod Saltalamacchia. Simply put, he is the right man for the job.
Clearly Saltalamacchia agrees. After hearing the news, the young catcher texted, "That's great. Thrilled he's coming back.''
Varitek was named Red Sox captain after the 2004 season. He was granted that distinction because of his leadership skills, his unmatched preparation, and the respect that his teammates—and even opposing players—have for him.
Among active catchers, Varitek ranks third in home runs (182), third in walks (593) fourth in RBI (721), fourth in doubles (296), fourth in extra-base hits (491), fourth in runs (632), fourth in total bases (2,126) and sixth in hits (1,258).
Both Varitek and Saltalamacchia are switch-hitters and should create an effective platoon. Varitek's career line against lefties is .279/.359/.471 and Saltalamacchia's career line against righthanders is .273/.343/.422. If they reach those averages in 2011, the Red Sox will get well above league-average production compared to other catchers.
And, by paying Varitek just $2 million and Saltalamacchia just $750,000 next season, the Sox have a lot more money for some combination of Adrian Beltre/Carl Crawford/ Jayson Werth.
The Red Sox will clearly spend money this offseason, as they always do. They just want to spend it wisely and in the areas of greatest need, with an eye on the prospects who may be ready to assume a big league role in the next two, or so, years.
Since John Henry and Co. purchased the club in 2002, the Sox have been number two in payroll expenditures, spending $1.145 billion. That's second only to the Yankees, who have outspent the Red Sox by 46.6 percent, at $1.679 billion (thanks to Peter Abraham over at Boston.com for doing that research).
The Red Sox will no longer be paying Mike Lowell, Victor Martinez and even Julio Lugo in 2011. So they have the resources to re-sign Adrian Beltre and add either Carl Crawford or Jayson Werth, in addition.
Bringing back Jason Varitek at such a team-friendly price, and pairing him with Saltalamacchia—who isn't even arbitration eligible—frees up plenty of resources for the Red Sox to make a much bigger long-term impact for their ball club.
As always, Theo Epstein has his eyes not only on next season, but the next few seasons.