Varitek happy Sox helped make choice for him
Free agency, retiring considered before team asked catcher back
BOSTON -- This offseason, more than any other, the possibility that Jason Varitek would be playing for a team other than the Red Sox became real to him.
"Did I necessarily think that this go-around, they may go another direction? Yeah," the 38-year-old catcher said Saturday at Fenway Park. "And I was excited that I didn't have to make that final decision."
Without going into specifics, Varitek said there were "things going on" with other teams before he finalized a one-year, $2 million deal to return to the Red Sox for a 15th season, his seventh as team captain. Varitek considered retirement this offseason, as he has in the past, and he wasn't sure if he would have signed on elsewhere had the Red Sox decided to go in a different direction.
The point Varitek underscored Saturday was how glad he was that he didn't need to make that decision.
"There's decisions to stay home. There's decisions to, if you want to take that up, to make that change and [sign elsewhere]," Varitek said. "So I'm just glad when it came down to it, I didn't have to. Those are things that definitely went on in my corner of figuring out what to do."
In Varitek, Boston returns a backup catcher who's the team's second-longest tenured player, and, more important, a mentor. Jarrod Saltalamacchia, 26 next season, is entering his first full year with the pitching staff after the Red Sox acquired him from Texas at the Trade Deadline. A switch-hitter like Varitek, Saltalamacchia will again have the veteran to tutor him.
"We're thrilled to have 'Tek back," Red Sox general manager Theo Epstein said Saturday at the end of Carl Crawford's introductory news conference. "We really like everything 'Tek brings to the table -- his leadership, the way he handles the pitching staff, his mentorship of Jarrod and just what he brings to this franchise."
Varitek has a team record with 1,420 games played behind the plate. The three-time American League All-Star hit .232 with seven homers and 16 RBIs in 2010, when he missed a little more than two months last season with a foot fracture. He had trouble walking down stairs at the start of the offseason, and to be ready going forward, Varitek said he prepares as though he'll play every day.
"I still believe that I don't know what's going to happen," Varitek said. "You never know what's going to happen with injuries, etc. I have to prepare what I know how to prepare, which would be to physically and mentally prepare every day. That's not necessarily the case, but physically that's what I have to do."
Varitek received a heartfelt ovation at Fenway on the last day of the season in October, when Red Sox fans weren't sure if they'd see him on the field in a Boston uniform again. In Epstein's mind, the window to return was always there.
"I think we kind of hinted at it after the last game of the season when he got that ovation," Epstein said. "And I was thrilled to see him get that recognition from the fans, but I think I said at the press conference, that the recognition was fantastic for him, but doesn't necessarily have to be a goodbye."
Varitek said his decision to return wasn't swayed by the team's acquisitions of Adrian Gonzalez and Crawford this week, but he believed the moves adequately filled the voids left by Victor Martinez and Adrian Beltre. Varitek called Crawford "the most athletic player in the game."
Varitek (and Saltalamacchia) will have some adjusting to do in the war room in 2011. They'll be working with new pitching Curt Young, who replaced John Farrell, who left to manage the Blue Jays this offseason. Varitek said his gameplanning with Young would start after New Year's.
"Yes, John Farrell was very good at what he did; on my end of it he was great to work with, gameplanned and those things extremely well," Varitek said. "[But] it wasn't like that day one when he walked in, his communication was great and those things. Anyway, we can help our new pitching coach, help him learn people, learn situations the best we can. That's where I think I'll have the most impact."