Saturday, December 3, 2011

Just Retire, Jason

Jason Varitek has been a member of the Boston Red Sox for every one of his 15 big league seasons.  The team captain has been with the squad through thick and thin, has enjoyed the highs of embracing Keith Foulke and Jonathan Papelbon after the final out of two World Series championship runs and suffered the lows of the devastating Aaron Boone game and last season's epic collapse.  The three time All-Star belted nearly 200 homers while catching Pedro Martinez, Tim Wakefield, and Curt Schilling, batting behind Nomar Garciaparra, Manny Ramirez and David Ortiz.  The Gold Glove winner and Silver Slugger recipient has caught four no-hitters and lived a long, full baseball life.

And now it's time to say goodbye.

Because it's been quite a while since 'Tek was a capable everyday catcher.  Just once in the past six seasons has the switch-hitting backstop batted north of .238, and during that time he's been worth less than one bWAR per year with an OPS+ that's averaged out to 87.  Granted, we're talking about his age 34 through 39 seasons here, but to be honest he's fortunate Boston could afford to give him 40 million bucks and almost 2,000 at-bats, or about four full seasons, to such a subpar offensive performer.  And while his hitting has clearly declined, his defense was never great in the first place (career -0.6 dWAR and basestealers ran on him at will), so it's not like he brings much to the table with his mitt, either.  Of course, he does have the old-school intangibles of leadership, experience, and grit that don't show up in the daily box scores, and he's earned the reputation of a hard-nosed ballplayer and a warrior (we all saw him stuff his glove into Alex Rodriguez's yapper on national TV back in 2004, remember?). Pitchers always loved him and never questioned his game-calling skills, and he handled the staff so well that he was like a second pitching coach.  Even in the twilight of Varitek's career, Josh Beckett refused to pitch to his replacements Victor Martinez and Jarrod Saltalamacchia.

But Varitek, like his Yankee counterpart Jorge Posada, has indeed been replaced, and at this point in his career #33 is strictly a backup catcher.  Boston has shown little interest in bringing him back since Salty (13 years younger) has proved he can withstand the rigors of catching a full season, but the soon to be 40 year-old has reportedly drawn interest from the Mets and Orioles and if anyone can convince them to give the creaky catcher a shot, it's his agent Scott Boras.  If I were Varitek, I would hang up my spikes and call it a career, go out as a Red Sox lifer and the franchise's best catcher since Carlton Fisk.  It's been painful to watch his decline over the past few seasons, and no one wants to see him overstay his welcome and toil away for those noncontenders.  If he has any sense of pride or dignity he'll understand that it's time to call it quits.  He's made his money, more than $67 million in salaries, and has nothing left to prove.

Interestingly enough, if he winds up in Maryland behind Matt Wieters on the depth chart for a year his career will have the same ending as Dwight Evans, who enjoyed a 19 season tenure in a Boston uniform before going out with the 67-win Orioles in his age 40 season.

Varitek, please don't make the same mistake.

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