Jason Varitek to Stay With Boston Red Sox

Thursday, December 23rd 2004, 8:44 pm

By: News On 6

NEW YORK (AP) _ Jason Varitek is remaining with the Boston Red Sox, and David Eckstein is moving on to the St. Louis Cardinals.

Varitek agreed to a $40 million, four-year contract with the World Series champion Red Sox, a deal that is to be announced Friday, a lawyer with knowledge of the negotiations said on condition of anonymity.

Eckstein, let go by Anaheim on Monday, agreed Thursday to a $10.25 million, three-year contract with the NL champion St. Louis Cardinals, completing a game of musical chairs among shortstops.

Boston started the shortstop switches by luring Edgar Renteria from St. Louis with a $40 million, four-year contract. Anaheim then agreed Monday to a $32 million, four-year deal with Orlando Cabrera, who helped the Red Sox sweep St. Louis in the World Series.

Also Thursday, Andres Galarraga agreed to a minor league contract with the New York Mets. The 43-year-old first baseman, who has come back twice from non-Hodgkin's lymphoma, needs one home run to reach 400.

Two other deals were finalized as many teams started closing their offices for the holiday break: the Los Angeles Dodgers' $55 million, five-year contract with outfielder J.D. Drew and Boston's $1.5 million, one-year agreement with right-hander Wade Miller, who was cut by Houston earlier this week.

Varitek, who hit a career-high .296 last season with 18 homers and 73 RBIs, will receive a $4 million signing bonus paid over four years and annual salaries of $9 million. The sides compromised over his desire for a no-trade clause, working out a solution that will cover the final three years of his contract.

``Jason is clearly a key asset we need (to) retain. He is the rock solid leader of our club,'' principal owner John Henry said in an e-mail to The Associated Press, without confirming an agreement.

Eckstein was the second major offseason acquisition for the Cardinals, who obtained 17-game winner Mark Mulder from Oakland on Saturday for two pitchers and a minor league catching prospect. They still need a second baseman to replace Tony Womack, who signed with the New York Yankees.

He hit .276 with two homers and 35 RBIs last season, and scored 92 runs. He was the second-hardest player to strike out in the AL, with just 49 in 566 at-bats.

Eckstein, who'll replace Womack in the leadoff slot, chose the Cardinals because they aggressively pursued him, and because he likes their chances of returning to the World Series.

``They have a great nucleus of guys,'' he said. ``That lineup they put out there, you're playing with a bunch of All-Stars, and it's going to be fun to be a part of it.''

Eckstein, 29, was a fan favorite in Anaheim, helping the Angels win the 2002 World Series title with his spunky play. Cardinals manager Tony La Russa told him to keep it up.

``Mr. La Russa said just to play my game, be a pest at the plate and play solid defense,'' Eckstein said.

Drew played in a career-high 145 games for Atlanta last season, hitting .305 and setting personal bests with 31 homers, 118 runs scored, 93 RBIs, 158 hits and 118 walks.

``I'm looking forward to another healthy year,'' Drew said. ``The thing I learned last year is the more you're on the field, the more consistent you can become.''

Dodgers general manager Paul DePodesta thinks Drew is one of the most complete players in the game.

``What we saw last year we hope is the first great year of many years to come,'' DePodesta said. ``He had been a target for a long time. He comes in with a great track record and we feel he's just entering his prime. We have a 29-year-old who's an excellent fielder, hits with power and also gets on base. If he can remain consistently healthy, he has a chance to put up some pretty gaudy numbers over the length of the contract.''

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