Red Sox still talking to Jason Varitek

Updated: December 16, 2011, 10:01 AM ET
By Joe McDonald | ESPNBoston.com

PROVIDENCE, R.I. -- Whether veteran free-agent catcher Jason Varitek will continue his playing career remains uncertain, but Boston Red Sox general manager Ben Cherington and owner John Henry made clear Thursday that they want him to remain with the organization in some capacity.

"We have incredible respect for Tek. I have incredible respect for Tek on a personal level. We, as an organization and ownership, have incredible respect for him and for the contributions he's made," Cherington said.

"Our hope is that Tek will always be a part of the Red Sox in some way. As far as what position he's in immediately, what we want to do is keep talking to Tek and not discuss that in a public forum. We'll continue to talk to Scott [Boras] and Tek and figure out what's best for the Red Sox, and what's best for him. We look forward to doing that."

Henry concurred, saying at a Red Sox scholarship event at the Rhode Island state house Thursday he has been "trying to reach him this week" and that Varitek should "be a part of this organization for the rest of his life."

When asked what role he would like to see the captain to hold moving forward, Henry wouldn't commit to anything specifically.

"I don't want to discuss that until I have a chance to discuss it with him," Henry said. "I don't want to discuss it publicly."

Currently, the club has depth at the catching position with Jarrod Saltalamacchia, Kelly Shoppach and Ryan Lavarnway as the top three heading into spring training. It's unclear how Varitek, 39, who has spent 15 seasons in Boston, would fit in, unless it was perhaps an off-field role with the organization.

Cherington and manager Bobby Valentine recently retained the services of bullpen coach and catching instructor Gary Tuck for the 2012 season.

If Varitek wants to continue his playing career, he may have an interested suitor in the Chicago Cubs, who are currently led by former Red Sox GM Theo Epstein. Sources told the Chicago Tribune that the team has expressed preliminary interest in both Varitek and pitcher Tim Wakefield.

"I've had discussions with them about Tek, but it's been about playing," Boras said. "Any thoughts about coaching have not been addressed, to my knowledge."

If Varitek signs elsewhere, Henry said he will support his decision but still hopes Varitek will work for the Red Sox in some capacity once his career is over.

"No matter what he decides to do, he's always welcome here," Henry said. "He's a huge part of the history of this organization and he should be a part of the future of this organization."

When the Red Sox signed Shoppach, 31, to a one-year deal worth $1.35 million earlier this week, it signaled an almost certain end to Varitek's playing career in Boston.

"Obviously we know Shop well and as we went into the offseason we felt like there were a couple of things that were important to us in regards to the catching position," Cherington said. "One was to continue to find ways to help in the running game and to help control the running game, which was an area of concern for us last year. Shop's been able to help pitching staffs control the running game and has been pretty consistent throughout his career."

Shoppach led the American League by throwing out 41 percent of attempted base-stealers. Varitek threw out just 14 percent, and Saltalamacchia threw out about 31 percent.

Shoppach also makes sense as a complement to Saltalamacchia in that he hits left-handed pitching well. Among active catchers, Shoppach's career .909 OPS against lefties is fourth-highest in the majors.

"We also felt like in a perfect world we would look to solidify the catching position by adding strengths to that area and not necessarily counting on Lavarnway going into spring training," Cherington said. "With that said, we really think highly of Ryan and think he's going to be a really good player for us in the future. Shop helps us strengthen the position overall and helps complement Salty."

Varitek, who will be 40 by the home opener, joined a franchise that hadn't won a World Series in almost eight decades and became a pivotal part of two championship teams. To Red Sox fans, the turning point was July 24, 2004, when Varitek shoved his glove in Alex Rodriguez's face during a brawl with the Yankees at Fenway Park -- a picture that is as popular in Boston TV rooms as Bobby Orr's game-winner in the 1970 Stanley Cup finals.

The Red Sox came back to win the game 11-10, then came back from a three-game deficit against New York in the AL championship series en route to their first title in 86 years. Varitek, who became a free agent after that season, re-signed with the team after a protracted negotiation and was given a uniform with a "C" on its chest, making him the team's first captain since Jim Rice.

The Red Sox won the Series again in '07 with another solid year from Varitek, but it would be his last. Since then, he has batted .218, including a .220 average last year while appearing in just 68 games.

More disturbing, the captain was not able to maintain cohesion in a clubhouse that disintegrated down the stretch, when the Red Sox blew a nine-game lead in the AL wild-card race and missed the playoffs by one game -- the biggest September collapse in baseball history.

Joe McDonald covers the Red Sox and Bruins for ESPNBoston.com. Information from The Associated Press was used in this report.

Joe McDonald

Reporter, ESPNBoston.com

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