Talkin Sox with Dan

Where baseball fans gather for commonsensical, opinionated Red Sox banter.

Archive for the tag “Jason Varitek”

Quick Hits – Red Sox

Before we delve into all things Red Sox, I’m going to be upfront by saying that I’m not going to directly deal with the latest off the field soap opera. If I touch on it in passing, that’s all it is–a passing thought. It’s not that I don’t believe it is important (it is), but I loathe the drama that seems to follow this team. Hearing about it day after day makes me want to do this. I care about baseball. I care about what occurs between the lines. I hope you do too.

Let’s one-stop shop.

Jason Varitek is not fit to manage the 2013 Boston Red Sox. He is not far enough removed from the situation. Managerial experience is not a prerequisite for me, but it certainly doesn’t hurt. Maybe in the future, Captain, but right now is not the time.

— The thought of another hiring process makes me tired just thinking about it, but it is probably inevitable. John Farrell is ideal but less than likely. My early guess? Sandy Alomar Jr.

— The Orioles are better than the Red Sox, and that hurts to admit. I was dead wrong about that team. Wei-Yin Chen has been excellent, and Adam Jones is a fun player to watch.

— Reports have come out lately that because of the turbulence and clubhouse that seems to follow the Red Sox like the plague, free agents will opt to sign elsewhere during upcoming off-seasons. Not the case. The worst clubhouse in the league can suddenly be the most attractive when the dollars are counted. Players follow the dough. The rest barely matters.

— Some ardent Red Sox fans jokingly talk about rooting for another team as our Local Nine continue to fade. I’ll admit that it is fun to wish the Pirates well or hope that Josh Reddick‘s squad out west finishes strong. In reality, it provides me with absolutely no comfort. I’m a one-team kinda guy.

— Every time you hear or read a story about how awful the Red Sox clubhouse is — pretend they were winning before coming to a conclusion. Let me elaborate with the help of an example.

  • The Red Sox are 20 games above .500, and John Lackey is “double fisting” after a win in the clubhouse on the road in Cleveland. Lackey, unlike Jacoby Ellsbury in 2010, remains with his team, despite being unable to contribute on the field due to injury. A couple of beers to go with the post-spread after yet another win is anything but a big deal. Big Lack performed poorly in his first two-years with the Sox, but it is clear that he is dedicated to his teammates and the organization.

A team’s win-loss record dictates how it is perceived by the media, by the fans. Nothing else matters.

— Red Sox brass is criticized for being too concerned with public opinion. Wins and loses take a backseat to how the average fan perceives the ball club, sort of thing. A large segment of fans are busy hitting blogs and radio talk shows clamoring for the Sox to rid themselves of Josh Beckett and Lackey Eat the cash and move on. If John Henry and Co. permits GM Ben Cherington to work a trade that would ship one of the two (or both) malcontents elsewhere this off-season, wouldn’t he just be catering to popular opinion? Just sayin’.

Shopping for a Catcher

The Red Sox do not have a surplus of many of things. Wins are a good example of something they certainly do not have an excess of. Their outfield that once played host to Carl Crawford and Jacoby Ellsbury is now home to Daniel Nava and Ryan Sweeney. Alfredo Aceves was once a strong candidate to break camp as a member of the rotation. A freak thumb injury to Andrew Bailey, combined with Red Sox brass’ steadfast belief that Daniel Bard is best served as a starter, thrust Aceves into the role of closer. The minute they thought that had six viable starting pitchers, Aaron Cook’s knee was gashed by a spike, landing him on the disabled list.

The 2012 version of the Boston Red Sox is not exactly dripping with depth.

They do have catching, however. Jarrod Saltalamacchia is posting a so-so  slash line of .250/.281/.512. He has shown a knack for hitting the ball out of the ballpark on the young season. Salty’s gone bridge five times. The 27-year old was once a highly touted prospect and a former first round pick. He has the pedigree and is still developing at an extremely demanding position. Kelly Shoppach mashes lefties and seems to be vaulting into the position of personal catcher for Josh Beckett. It should not be ignored that on Monday night, Shoppach caught Jon Lester‘s complete game against the Mariners. Whether it is factual or not, pitchers seem to be more comfortable working with Shoppach. Finally, Ryan Lavarnway is biding his time at Triple-A Pawtucket. He certainly looks like the catcher of the future or at least a power bat from the right side.

Compared to the catching situations for the Angels and the Nationals, the Red Sox look like they have Ivan Rodriguez, Johnny Bench, and Yogi Berra.

In Washington, the backstops are dropping early and often. Wilson Ramos, a talented young catcher, is likely out for the duration of the season with a right knee injury. On Monday night, Ramos’ replacement, Sandy Leon, a rookie, fell victim to a high right ankle sprain courtesy of the Padres’ Chase Headley during a play at the plate. Out West, the Angels are suffering a similar fate. Chris Iannetta will be out for the best part of two months following wrist surgery. Their top catching prospect, Hank Conger, is currently on the shelf as well.

So this tweet from the Boston Globe’s Nick Cafardo does not come as much of a suprise:

Conveniently enough, as I mentioned previously, Shoppach caught Lester’s masterful performance last night. He also went very deep to left field, just for good measure. He is a veteran guy, playing under a one-year deal at short money. John Heyman of CBSSports.com sees a tremendous amount of interest brewing around baseball in Shoppach.

This is an interesting situation for GM Ben Cherington and the Red Sox. It’s not like they are openly showcasing their catchers, but other organizations are in need, and, in this situation, the Red Sox have. But what does it all mean?

Ryan Lavarnway is not going anywhere. He hasn’t hit his stride in the International League as of yet, but he is as close to a proven commodity as a prospect can get. Saltalamacchia is not your typical bridge player. The Sox have Mike Aviles keeping Jose Iglesias‘ seat warm, but I do not get the impression that Salty is strictly a placeholder. That is not to say that he is untradeable. If the right deal came along, I believe Cherington would be willing to part with Saltalamacchia. That would be the ultimate vote of confidence for Lavarnway.

Shoppach is the most interesting piece in all of this. At first glance, he is the most tradeable catching commodity the Red Sox have. But is role on this team has expanded. Valentine openly stated that he was not in favor of his pitchers having personal catchers, but it would be moronic to say that Shoppach has not evolved into Beckett’s new version of Jason Varitek. After Lester’s best performance of the year on Monday, I wouldn’t be surprised to see Shoppach behind the dish for the lefty’s next turn.

It will be a curious situation to monitor over the course of the next several days. In all likelihood, the Red Sox will not make a deal. But I would be extremely surprised to hear that they did not listen.

This is Only the Beginning

Bobby Valentine has taken the Red Sox, Fort Myers, Jet Blue Park, and the month of February by storm. Sparring through the media with former Sox manager and current ESPN analyst Terry Francona, jabs at Derek Jeter over a play that happened over a decade ago, compliments to Jason Varitek for placing his catcher’s mitt into the middle of Alex Rodriguez‘s face almost eights years ago, and receiving blame for Carl Crawford‘s recent setback regarding his rehabilitation from wrist surgery. I’m out of breath.

It’s amazing what can unfold in a matter of weeks.

Despite all of the seemingly unwanted turmoil, it has actually been smooth sailing for the new Red Sox skipper. So far. Larry Lucchino Ben Cherington looks like a genius for hiring Valentine. So far. The media has taken quite a liking to Valentine. So far. Players, including the oft-irritated David Ortiz, have given their stamps of approval for the new manager. Fans of the Old Towne Team who generally possess a well-deserved affinity towards Francona (two World Championships will do that sorta thing) have also reluctantly nodded in the direction of Valentine.

So far.

As Talkin Sox With Dan discussed almost exactly one month ago, I firmly believe that if Francona had to be sent packing (and he did), Valentine was the best choice. It is natural to juxtapose Francona and Valentine, and after the way 2011 ended, it is super-easy to draw the conclusion that Valentine’s methods are better. However, I do not believe that is necessarily the case.

Are Francona and Valentine different? Certainly. Valentine is like a parent who is always around, always trying to make their son or daughter the best possible person he or she can be on that given day. Sure, that parent can be irritating, sometimes even annoying, but in the back of your mind, you know that he or she has only the best intentions. Francona was more like a caring parent who just wasn’t constantly checking with their kid. He trusted his children to be respectful and responsible without having to be constantly reminded of exactly what that meant.

Are Valentine’s methods better than Francona’s? I’m not sure. Francona’s philosophy relied upon being ready and healthy for the end of the season and, presumably, postseason play. If that meant applying less pressure to the throttle early in the season, so be it. It was the ends that mattered most, not the means. For Valentine, the ends still matter, but he is determined to change the means by which their achieved. More hands-on, more fundamentals, more work. However, it is less about Francona and Valentine and more about the buttons they push.

For eight seasons, Francona applied pressure to the same set of buttons. For seven and half seasons, the buttons worked. Late last season, the players stopped responding, and when that happens, change is necessary. Valentine represents that change.

As of today, Valentine seems like the perfect medicine for a Red Sox team that had grown complacent. He is an active teacher. He enjoys the spotlight. He can work a crowd. The guy will be working on Yawkey Way, but he belongs on Broadway.

So what does this all mean?

It means that I hope the fans who have fallen in love at first sight with all that is Bobby V this spring know what the expect this summer. He will shake things up. Baseball fans are a lot like its participants. They like routine. They cling to it. Valentine does not believe in a set lineup. Kevin Youkilis leading off? Probably not something I would do, but Valentine might. Daniel Bard getting the ball on Opening Day in Detroit? It is not out of the realm of possibility. Change is certainly on the horizon.

Just like it did with Francona, there will come a time when Valentine’s message grows stale, when the buttons he is used to pressing cease to work. I know what I’m getting myself into by advocating for Valentine. There will be more than one instance this summer when the guy leaves me at a loss for words, bewildered by whatever decision he has made on or off the field. This season, let’s make a concerted effort to not juxtapose Valentine with his predecessor. Let’s give him the season to show his mettle.

I am a believer in Valentine.

So far.

Jason Varitek Makes the Right Choice

It’s never easy to let go of something or someone that reminds us of ourselves. I don’t care if it is an old practice jersey from your days on the high school basketball team, a toy given as a present when Santa Claus was still real, or a blanket that was used when there was no work, no bills, and no responsibilities.

It is simple to see why cutting ties with Jason Varitek is not easy.

But it should be. In recent years, Varitek has not been good. If you wanted to make the argument that Varitek had a place on the 2012 Boston Red Sox, we would have a serious disagreement.

Varitek will make things official on Thursday at Fenway South. The writing has been on the wall for some time. Kelly Shoppach was inked to a one-year guaranteed contract earlier this winter. With Jarrod Saltalamacchia entrenched as the Opening Day catcher and the powerful bat of Ryan Lavarnway waiting in Pawtucket, Shoppach’s signing, for all intents and purposes, marked the end of the Varitek era in Boston.

Ben Cherington handled both the Varitek and Tim Wakefield situations with the cold, objective decision-making ability that is vital to the success of a quality general manager. And it couldn’t have been easy. Many fans would have loved to see both longtime Red Sox members back for one more season, a season that commemorates the 100th anniversary of Fenway Park. For all of the negative commentary that focuses on the Red Sox brass putting public relations first, they made two shrewd baseball decisions. The roster spot that Wakefield would have occupied outweighs the production the Sox would have received. The same holds true for the Captain.

Varitek couldn’t throw out Cecil Fielder attempting to steal third base on a bad jump with a left handed batter at the plate. His bat has evolved into an abject weakness, as it should–he’s 39 years old. Despite the fact that it is easy to provide sound reasoning as to why Varitek is both an offensive and defensive liability, it is clear how someone could argue that he is still valuable to not only the Red Sox, but any major league team.

The three-time All-Star knows how to call a game. He sees things that Saltalamacchia will not pick up on in 2012. He is a seasoned veteran that knows opposing hitters as well as he knows the pitchers he works with. And that’s pretty rare.

Josh Beckett agrees.

“He’d call a pitch and I’d shake and he’d throw the same pitch down. I knew he saw something I didn’t see. Obviously he’s closer to the plate and the batter and everything. I knew then I could have conviction in that, that he saw something that he really wanted to do that with.”

There is no point in denying the truth: Varitek provides the guys who toe the rubber with a peace of mind about the pitch they are about to make more than Saltalamacchia or Shoppach will. And there is something to be said for that. Clay Buchholz may not be afraid to throw his changeup in a hitters’ count because Varitek made that decision for him. Beckett may snap his curve ball downward with more authority because he has a sincere trust when ‘Tek is on the receiving end of the pitch. It’s a fair argument, but it also comes with a counterpoint.

The 2011 Red Sox team was too comfortable. Varitek has served as less of a legitimate contributor and more of a caddy to Beckett in recent years. Varitek isn’t stupid. He knows that he hasn’t been the offensive and defensive stalwart he had been in the past. At the same time, Varitek knows (and it’s true) he could still contribute on the major league level–even as a soon-to-be 40 year old.

That’s what makes it so hard.

On Thursday, Varitek, like Wakefield did a couple of weeks ago, will stand up in front of former teammates, members of the media, and admirers to announce that he will no longer play baseball. It must be tough to make the right choice.

And for fans, it is certainly not easy.

As we discard items from our past, it often hurts. The practice jersey from high school may make its way into the trash. The toy from Christmas past will likely make an appearance in a yard sale one day. But before we let go of the blanket that was with us for so long, when things were just too good, we may tear away a piece, just to save–just in case.

Jason Varitek to Retire

Jason Varitek will announce his retirement on Thursday, as many expected. TSWD will have more on this tomorrow.

Step Aside, Wake

Photo courtesy of bigleaguescrew.com

Tim Wakefield is just hanging out, waiting to see if the Red Sox will give him a call.

I don’t believe the phone is going to ring.

Nevertheless, in a story that ran in Florida Today, Wakefield stated what we all already know: He wants seven more victories so he can overtake Roger Clemens as the Red Sox all-time leader in wins.

“I think I can be a valuable asset to them [Red Sox] as an insurance policy, you know a fifth or sixth starter or if something doesn’t pan out for some of the guys they have already penciled in to the rotation,” Wakefield said. “You know that’s kind of been my job these last two years; I don’t have a problem doing that.”

In other words: “I know I’m not very good anymore, but I’d like to pad my stats, if that’s cool.”

Wake hasn’t exactly seen a ton of success since taking over as the Red Sox swingman. In the past two years, the knuckleballer has averaged a robust ERA of 5.23. He is 45 years old. I know that knuckleball pitchers don’t follow the same rules as your run-of-the-mill hurlers, but we have seen the best of Wakefield. There isn’t much left. That is a fact.

Can today’s version of Number 49 help the Red Sox win a championship? I mean, that’s really all we care about.

I don’t believe he can. GM Ben Cherington has to decide whether what Wakefield brings to the table is worth more than the roster spot he takes up. Wake would not be my first choice to spot start, and his often erratic knuckleball basically excludes him from coming out of the bullpen to pitch in a big spot. Anyone can throw a few mop-up frames in a blowout.

According to a tweet from the Boston Herald’s Scott Lauber, Bobby Valentine could not envision Wakefield coming to Spring Training and competing for a job. He made similar comments about Jason Varitek. Both players are in similar situations. They are revered in Boston and would not receive the same sort of ceremonious end to their career if they played for a different organization.

In a perfect world, Varitek and Wakefield would announce their retirement from baseball and be on hand for the Opening Day ceremonies this year. They would go out with class and grace like Jorge Posada.

Something tells me that that is not going to happen.

However, I will not be a happy Red Sox fan if they decide to bring Wakefield back and sell it as a “you can never have enough pitching” sort of move. We would all know that it would be a decision designed to let Wakefield limp his way to seven ugly wins, stand for a few ovations, and sell a truckload of merchandise commemorating him as the franchise’s leader in victories.

I like Wakefield a lot. But I like winning ballgames more.

Jason Varitek’s Time in Boston is Over

Photo via angleton.isd.tenet.edu

The Red Sox and Jason Varitek have had a long, beautiful marriage. There were good times like in 2004 when Varitek posted a nice .296/.390/.482 line. He also delivered a glove full of cowhide to the face of Alex Rodriguez during the middle of that summer, an image that is forever engrained in the minds of New Englanders. The Red Sox, in case you didn’t remember, won the final game they played that year, something they hadn’t done in 86 years. Like all long-term relationships, there have been bad times. Unfortunately, the valleys have occurred more often than the peaks recently for the soon-to-be 40 year old. Last season, in 68 games, Varitek put together a notably terrible .221/.300/.423 line. Things that were once sweet are now sour. The kids have moved out, and there really is no reason to stay together.

And that’s okay.

Nevertheless, there is not a single plausible reason why Varitek should be a member of the 2012 Red Sox. At the same time, I understand the arguments that fans will put forth as to why Tek should be back this season. Let’s go through each one of these points as a way of illustrating the utter stupidity it would be for the Red Sox to even entertain bringing number 33 back in any capacity.

The team owes it to Varitek to let him go out on his terms.

The Red Sox have paid their longtime catcher over $67MM. They do not owe him anything. If Tek wants to make an agreement similar to something Nomar Garciaparra did in 2010, that’s fine with me. He can even throw out the first pitch on April 13 at Fenway. I’m all for recognizing a guy who has had one heck of a career, but he should not be on the roster.

Varitek still calls a great game.

At this point, I’m not even sure what this means. I understand that Varitek does a tremendous amount of homework on opposing hitters. His bookshelves probably look similar to Curt Schilling’s. When Tek throws down a sign, the guy on the mound not only tends to throw that pitch (instead of shaking it off), but he truly believes in that given pitch at the point it leaves his hand. There is something to be said for that, but the success of the Red Sox staff is dependent upon Jon Lester, Josh Beckett, and Clay Buchholz—three veteran pitchers who are making a ton of money. They are seasoned arms who could all finish in the top ten in Cy Young voting in 2012, with or without Varitek. If the Red Sox were heading into the season with a staff full of Daniel Bard‘s, I would say that it may not be a bad idea to bring Varitek back to continue as an supervisor of the staff and a tutor to Jarrod Saltalamacchia. That simply is not the case, however. Varitek’s mere presence perpetuates a false dependency for members of the pitching staff. We will return to this point later.

He is the captain of the team. He shouldn’t just be let go.

Varitek’s legacy as a captain and two-time World Champion is precisely one of the many reasons why he should retire, but if he truly does want to continue playing, it cannot be here. Can you imagine the captain of the Boston Red Sox having to compete for a job in Spring Training? Neither can Bobby Valentine. In reality, Varitek would not even be competing. Instead, he would be collecting dust, waiting for an injury to occur to Saltalamacchia or newly signed Kelly Shoppach. That sounds like more of a distraction than a captain.

Josh Beckett is coming off of a successful year that ended tumultuously. It would be best to keep him as comfortable as possible, and Varitek is his personal catcher.

Beckett and the rest of his staff-mates were not nearly as poisonous as the media portrayed them following the all-too-well publicized September collapse. They were comfortable. Way, way too comfortable. For Beckett, Varitek has been the biggest part of his comfort zone since arriving in Boston. I don’t blame him either. Number 33 is a knowledgeable catcher who any pitcher would love to have as a backstop, but the pacifier needs to be removed. Management should not be concerned with placating Beckett. Like I alluded to before, he is a veteran who does not need his hand held every fifth day.

——————–

Varitek is the catcher I spent the majority of my childhood watching. He signed a ball for me before a game at Fenway against the Orioles when I was still in Little League. I’m not a hater. I am someone who believes that a 40 year old who brings nothing offensively to the table and serves as more of a caddy than a catcher to a high maintenance pitcher should not be a team that does not deserve to have certain little luxuries. If you listen to someone who believes that Tek should be on team, count how many times his or her arguments invoke the past tense. He has become a guy whose points of success are no longer in the present or the future. Varitek was an excellent catcher who was a major part of two teams that won two World Series.

It is simply no longer his time.

Saltalamacchia is ready to be the everyday catcher, and Shoppach is there to serve as a backup. Ryan Lavarnway will be waiting in Pawtucket. Varitek should look no further than to his counterpart from the Bronx. Go out with grace like Jorge Posada. You will always have a place in Boston, just not on the 2012 Red Sox.

Thank you to baseballreference.com for the statistics used in this blog.

Post Navigation

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.