Varitek a happy camper
Red Sox's captain 'ecstatic' he's staying with Boston in '09
FORT MYERS, Fla. -- As with almost any business negotiation, there were ups, there were downs, there were twists, there were turns, there were moments of frustration and annoyance. But as Jason Varitek went through all of that and more over the course of the long winter, the one thing that never wavered was his desire to remain with the Red Sox -- the only Major League team he's played for.
And if Varitek has it his way, there will never be another team. That much was made clear by the veteran catcher on Saturday, as he made his first public comments since the night the Red Sox were eliminated by the Tampa Bay Rays in Game 7 of last October's American League Championship Series.
On the first official workout day for pitchers and catchers, the Red Sox were once again led into a new season by their captain. Nobody was more pleased by that than Varitek, who agreed to terms to remain in Boston on Jan. 30 and officially signed the deal on Feb. 6.
"I wouldn't say there wasn't any doubt," Varitek said. "But there was never ever a doubt in what I wanted and making sure that I maintained the fact that that's where my heart is, and that's where I've always wanted to be."
He was back at that place on Saturday, sweating through drills, signing autographs and then holding court with the media. It was all a nice change of pace for Varitek, who dealt with weeks of uncertainty during the offseason.
"I'm just glad, at this point, it's over with," said Varitek, who turns 37 in April. "I'm ecstatic that I'm a Red Sox. I'm ecstatic with the fact that I have the peace of mind to know that I'm going to be in this uniform. I get closer to retiring in this uniform. Not saying that I see retirement any time soon, but it allows me that opportunity to do what's most important to me, which is to wear this 'C' for this group of fans and people in this organization, and we've spent a lot of time building championships."
Even as he conversed frequently with agent Scott Boras throughout the offseason, Varitek, coming off a tough 2008 season with the bat, remained focused on preparing himself to rebound in '09.
|"He's in great shape. It makes our lives as coaches and the manager a lot easier knowing he's back there putting those fingers down."|
-- Red Sox manager|
on Jason Varitek
Though Varitek was widely second-guessed for his decision to decline Boston's arbitration offer -- which might have earned him a salary of $10 million to $12 million in 2009 -- the catcher said his motivation for doing so was to do everything in his power to get a multiyear commitment.
In the end, he got a one-year deal at $5 million, but one that includes a dual option for 2010 that the club can exercise at $5 million. If the Sox decline to do so, Varitek can kick in the option at $3 million, with incentives that could bring it to $5 million.
"Ultimately, I got what was important to me, which was being able to maintain my legacy and maintain the opportunity to be here and know that there was a commitment back from this organization that I'm going to be here," Varitek said. "That was the most important thing to me from the get-go. I'm just happy. I'm happy that I'm here. I'm happy that I'm a player in this organization still, and happy to have the opportunity with what this team has coming into camp to get back to a chance to win another championship."
So intent was Varitek on staying in Boston that he invited Red Sox owner John W. Henry to his offseason home in Atlanta for a face-to-face meeting, which took place on Jan. 16. Did it help?
"I think you'd really have to ask Mr. Henry that," Varitek said. "I don't think it hurt the situation. I think it may have accelerated some things. As a player, I have an agent that does a job for me, and in this instance, I felt I needed to be involved. You look at it this way, maybe it did help. But I really can't answer that for sure."
Either way, Varitek scoffed at the notion that his near winter-long stalemate with the organization would have any bearing on his mind-set going forward.
"There's always a business aspect to this," Varitek said. "That's part of the reason that you didn't hear me at all throughout this. I'm a player, they're management. You have people that deal on the business end of this. Either way, I can't walk away from this and not be the same person, not got out there and work my tail off for this pitching staff, work my tail off with other catchers, other position players."
What does it mean to the Red Sox to have Varitek back?
"A lot," said Red Sox manager Terry Francona. "He wears the 'C' on his uniform. There's a reason. I don't think they've handed that out very often. There's a lot of reasons behind it. He's in great shape. It makes our lives as coaches and the manager a lot easier knowing he's back there putting those fingers down."
As for the offense, Varitek is going to be scrutinized throughout the spring and at least into the early part of the season. That's the way it works in a market such as Boston. But Francona vowed to give Varitek -- who hit .220 last season, including .201 from the left side -- the benefit of the doubt.
"On the first day of camp, I'm not really comfortable criticizing his swing," Francona said. "We're not going to penalize a guy for having a difficult time last year. That would not make a lot of sense to me. He's been a good player for a long time and he's worked hard this winter, so that's the way we're going to go into the year."
Though Francona did pinch-hit for Varitek during the postseason, he doesn't expect that to become commonplace during the coming season.
"I would not look for that," Francona said. "If you're waiting for him to be hit for early in the season, I wouldn't hold your breath. Last year, we did it in the playoffs. That was my decision. But I don't know that I would hold your breath waiting for that to happen."
Nor is it something that Varitek even wanted to contemplate at the outset of Spring Training.
"We're on the first day of BP on the field right now," Varitek said. "I can't play that way. But I also have to play with the ability to give the manager his respect that he is our manager and he's going to make decisions."
Varitek spent time in the cage over the offseason trying to get back in a groove offensively, particularly from the left side. What he focused on was trying to simplify his approach.
While his defense never seems to waver, Varitek is hopeful for a rebound season with the bat.
"[I'm] very confident," Varitek said about his hitting. "Extremely confident. The way I looked at some things, I had some rough spots, but there were also some real good spots. I think that's been my case offensively my whole career. I can make things a little tougher. The more I can simplify things offensively, the better I'm going to be, and I can hopefully get to a point where I can use my best asset -- my strength."
Varitek is just grateful for the opportunity to seek rejuvenation in Boston, instead of some unfamiliar spot.
"I'm happy," Varitek said. "I have the ability to be here this year and know that there's a door open for next year. I can go out there and play and know that I'm one step closer to making sure I retire in this uniform."
Ian Browne is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.