O Captain! My Captain!: Varitek Set to Retire Thursday

On July 31st, 1997, the Boston Red Sox received Derek Lowe and first round pick Jason Varitek from the Seattle Mariners for reliever Heathcliff Slocumb. After being traded as a minor league prospect, there was no way Varitek could have imagined playing his entire 15 year major league career with one team. Similar to Tim Wakefield, it was assumed by many that V-Tek would walk away after the season ended last year. News has now broken out that Jason is set to announce his retirement Thursday at Fort Myers.

Throughout his long baseball career, Jason was always a winner. He is one of only two players in the history of baseball to play in the World Championship of the Little League Championship, College World Series National Championship, and the World Series in the MLB (Ed Vosberg is the other for those keeping track). His high school also won the State championship for Florida in 1990 and was ranked as the number one team in the nation by USA Today.

I hope your starting to get the “pitcher” (pun intended, horrible, but a pun nonetheless) because it was felt by many Sox fans that V-Tek knew some of the pitchers better than they did themselves. He was never the best hitting catcher, but not the worst either. Despite this, Jason was the perfect battery mate for every Sox pitcher (with the exception of Timmy and his knuckleball) and perfect teammate. He was crucial to both championship teams in 2004 and 2007 and Captain of the Red Sox from 2006 on. He caught a Major League record four no-hitters, which is a true testament of how well he could call a game behind the plate. I hope Jarrod Saltalamacchia and Ryan Lavarnway were able to learn a lot from Jason Varitek in their short time with him. His endless preparation and knowledge of the game was a huge benefit to the Sox pitchers throughout the last 14 years.

My favorite Varitek memory (along with many other Red Sox fans) came on July 24, 2004. In one of those summer games vs the Yanks at Fenway on Fox, A-Rod got pegged by Bronson Arroyo. Naturally, A-Rod started to bitch back at Arroyo, yelling “F*ck you, F*ck you.” There was no way Tek was having any of that and shoved his glove square into A-Rod’s face and starting a bench clearing brawl. The Sox went on to comeback from a 9-4 deficit and beat the Yanks 11-10 in the 9th by scoring three on the “invincible” Mariano Rivera. The game immediately went down as an all time great. That moment seemed to be the turning point of their championship season. The Sox posted the best record in the bigs from that point on and developed a much-needed swagger against the Yanks and Rivera that proved crucial when they were down 3-0 in the ALCS.

It’s going to be tough in the Sox clubhouse this year with all the crap that unfolded during their September collapse. Not having guys like Wakefield and Varitek won’t help, but as I have said before hopefully guys like Salty and Adrian will step up like they said. As I noted in my catcher positional rankings, I hope that the Red Sox can reward Varitek similar to how the Pats treated Kevin Faulk. The only difference would be since Varitek will be officially retired, his role will be a coaching job within the organization, not the player/mentor role Faulk had this past year. Either way, Timmy and V-Tek will be missed greatly, both in the clubhouse and on the TV screen. They are true heroes of Red Sox Nation and they deserved to be honored for their accomplishments.

Which brings me to this poll question, feel free to put in some comments.

 

AL East Position Matchup: Catcher

Spring training is around the corner and it looks like all the rosters are pretty much set in the MLB. I will begin to evaluate how the Red Sox matchup against their four counterparts in the AL East in different positions.

First up will be catcher (remember this is primarily based on projected starters):

1. Matt Wieters, Baltimore
2. J.P. Arencibia, Blue Jays
3. Russell Martin, Yankees
4. Jarrod Saltalamacchia, Red Sox
5. Jose Molina, Rays

Wieters was a no brainer here in the first slot. He was a can’t miss prospect since he was drafted 5th overall in 2007. He is not the superstar people once believed after a monster first year in the minors (.388 BA), but he provides decent pop (22 HR’s last year) and won a Gold Glove last year.

The next three were tough to call. I went with Arencibia next after his breakout campaign last year. He provided a bad batting average, but hit 23 Hr’s and had 78 RBI’s in 129 games in his rookie season. Arencibia is still a pretty raw talent, but with his good arm behind the plate and incredible power, he should have a pretty decent career. Third on the list is Russell Martin, who is not the player he was in the beginning of his career with the Dodgers. He has battled through knee and hip injuries since he broke out as a youngster in ’06-’08. He has had a declining batting average since ’08, although he saw in increase in HR and RBI’s for the Bronx Bombers last year. Even though Martin says he is healthy this year, I find it hard to believe he is a better option than Arencibia.

The Red Sox and Saltalamacchia are rated fourth due to the muddled cloud over the position and also an attempt to not be biased in this column. Jarrod Saltalamacchia is the clear number one on the roster right now, although I think Ryan Lavarnway is the better long term solution. The Red Sox also signed Kelly Shoppach over the offseason, which confused me in terms of Lavarnway’s spot on the team. First off, Salty had a huge year for the Red Sox last year. He was a low risk young guy who had an incredible amount of confidence issues (to the point of him struggling to complete throws back to the pitcher). It looked like he found the stroke and confidence that he had as a good prospect growing up in the Braves farm system. Salty and Varitek combined to be some of the worst at throwing out runners last year (25.1% and 23.1%, respectively), and Shoppach should provide some defensive help. The true value of the Sox catcher situation lies in how they deal with Lavarnway. Lavarnway is a 6-4, 225 prospect with a very solid baseball IQ, which is very important behind the plate. The Yale-alum has average catching skills, but has a solid bat and could even provide some help from the DH spot. Sox fans immediately fell in love with Lavarnway when he provided 2 HR and 4RBI’s in a must win game on the second to last game of the season last year in which the Sox won 8-7. This was real impressive in such a high pressure situation in his rookie year and hopefully he will get a chance to build on his progress throughout this season. Also, as an end to the Red Sox section, I see Jason Varitek’s roster spot on the Red Sox gone. I hope they treat him in a similar manner as the Patriots with Kevin Faulk, by keeping him in the organization as a leader but not taking up a valuable roster spot with his declining abilities.

Lastly, the Rays are clearly the bottom of the pile here. I see them making some changes either in the season or during these last few weeks before camp. Right now they have 36 year old Jose Molina slotted behind the plate and he has never even had more than 268 AB’s in a season. Most Sox fans remember him from his days as a Yankees backup. He provides some help defensively (threw out 32.4% of runners), but it is always a good sign for opposing pitchers when he is in the on deck circle.

Stay tuned for more position evaluations throughout the next few weeks.