O Captain! My Captain! Varitek gets contract, 'C' on jersey
Friday, December 24th 2004, 3:53 pm
By: News On 6
BOSTON (AP) _ Jason Varitek doesn't expect to hit like Carl Yastrzemski or Jim Rice. When it comes to clubhouse leadership, though, he is every bit their equal.
The Boston Red Sox appointed Varitek their third captain since 1923 after giving their longtime catcher a $40 million, four-year contract. Varitek did not know of the honor until he was presented with home and road jerseys bearing a red ``C'' on Friday to formalize the leadership role he has grown into since joining the team in 1997.
``It's not every day you're lucky enough to sign a player who embodies everything you want your franchise to be,'' general manager Theo Epstein said. ``When you have that player, you don't let him get away.''
Rice was the last official Red Sox captain, serving from 1985 until he retired in 1989. ``Captain Carl'' held the role from 1969-83.
They were batting stars who earned the honor by virtue of their stardom; Varitek is a potent offensive player, but what sets him apart is his handling of the pitching staff and his presence in the clubhouse.
``I'm extremely honored right now. I don't really know what to say,'' Varitek said. ``If I can do half of what they did statistically, I'll be all right.''
Other players have been considered captains informally through the years, like Varitek was until this week.
``We're not asking Jason to change at all by giving him that captaincy,'' Epstein explained. ``It's just a recognition of something everybody knows.''
Pitcher Tim Wakefield said he knows Varitek's value despite working almost exclusively with backup catcher Doug Mirabelli.
``He's really the glue that holds the whole team together,'' Wakefield said.
Varitek originally sought a five-year deal worth $55 million with a no-trade clause that would have guaranteed him the chance to stay in Boston until he was 37. But rather than seek all offers, he told agent Scott Boras to deal with the Red Sox first.
``Jason and (his wife) Karen told me specifically that my job is to sit down and talk with Theo,'' Boras said.
``I honestly couldn't see him playing in another city,'' Karen Varitek said. ``I just don't think he would fit anywhere else.''
Varitek is expected to be the last of the free agents signed by the Red Sox, who have already added Edgar Renteria, David Wells, Matt Clement, Wade Miller, John Halama and Matt Mantei to the team that won the franchise's first World Series championship since 1918.
The Red Sox entered the 2004 season with four major players heading for free agency: Pedro Martinez, Nomar Garciaparra, Derek Lowe and Varitek.
Garciaparra was traded to the Cubs in July, Martinez signed with the Mets this month and the Red Sox didn't pursue Lowe as a free agent. That means they will keep just one of the Big Four, but he's the most important one.
``In our minds, he was the guy that we kind of couldn't live without,'' Epstein said. ``There weren't any real alternatives. Jason's kind of the heart and soul of the Red Sox.''
The Red Sox had considered reloading last winter rather than letting the free agents walk and getting nothing in return. But Epstein opted to keep the core together and Boston won its first World Series since 1918.
``The transition worked out as well as it possibly could,'' Epstein said. ``We kept everyone because we thought we had a real chance to win, and that was realized.''
Varitek hit a career-high .296 with 18 homers and 73 RBIs last season. Since his trade from Seattle in 1997, he has a .271 batting average with 97 homers and 418 RBIs in 832 games.
Varitek will receive a $4 million signing bonus paid over four years and annual salaries of $9 million. The Red Sox have a policy against no-trade clauses, so the sides came up with a creative compromise.
Varitek will get no-trade rights once he has spent eight continuous years with the team. Four other Red Sox players, including Manny Ramirez, have contracts that entitle them to no-trade clauses that match those of their teammates; none of them would reach that milestone in their current deals.
``We felt that loyalty should be rewarded. That's good policy,'' Epstein said. ``The no-trade clause protection was the most difficult part of the negotiations.''
Now that he's signed, Varitek has a busy winter ahead. A studious preparer, he must has a half-dozen new pitchers to familiarize himself with: starters Wade Miller, Matt Clement and David Wells, swingman John Halama and reliever Matt Mantei with one spot left to be filled.
``The biggest thing is winning. To do it the first year _ we all know how long it took,'' Varitek said. ``Hopefully, we have a foundation big enough to do it again.''