Varitek saga might be lesson for Ramirez

Memo to Manny Ramirez, wherever you are:

Scott Boras always swings for the fences, and has a better batting average than most. But if you’re still counting on someone giving you the deal of your dreams, you might want to pay attention to what happened with your old Boston teammate, Jason Varitek. The Red Sox catcher, who also is represented by the superagent, capitulated Friday and signed a one-year deal with a two-way option for 2010 that guarantees $8 million and maxes out at $10 million, far less than he originally was seeking.

Give us a minute, Manny, and we’ll review for you how Varitek’s negotiations went:

• November: Boras told reporters that any team wanting to sign Varitek would need to consider Jorge Posada’s four-year, $52 million contract as a benchmark for negotiations. Just like he mentioned the five-year deal signed by another approaching-twilight player, Barry Bonds, as a comparison for you, Manny.

“It’s probably representative, age-wise,” Boras said about Varitek, “and it’s also representative of what a player on a winning team (is worth). You’re not going to have many catchers who have the performance levels and a 60 percent winning percentage on a franchise and have won two world championships and caught four no-hitters. The idea of it is that there just aren’t many in the marketplace that can lead a club like Jason Varitek, and that’s going to be his value.”

Boras also said this about Varitek, which he also echoed in comments about you, Manny, that whoever signed Varitek would profit mightily on the balance sheet:

“When the Red Sox win,” Boras said, “they make a lot of money, and the franchise and network (NESN) increase in value. Jason Varitek’s largest role is about winning. … His marketplace is unto himself because of the value he supplies.”

• December: The Red Sox, who still value Varitek for his leadership qualities and peerless skills in working with a pitching staff, got nowhere in negotiations. Boras said other teams had interest, but none surfaced. Most clubs in the market for a catcher said they won’t give up draft picks to sign a Type A free agent who will be 37 in April, especially one coming off the worst offensive season of his career (.220 batting average, .672 OPS).

The Red Sox offered Varitek salary arbitration, which almost surely would have assured him of a contract in the range of his 2008 contract, $10 million, and were shocked when he turned it down.

Then, Red Sox ownership became enraged when their prime off-season target, Mark Teixeira, another Boras client, elected to strike a last-minute deal with the rival Yankees just when it appeared Teixeira was a couple hours from being fitted in a Red Sox uniform – even Yankees general manager Brian Cashman thought as much.

The Teixeira fiasco had a chilling effect on the Varitek negotiations, at least as far as Red Sox ownership was concerned. One official said the club stopped taking Boras’ calls for a while.

• January: Varitek requested a one-on-one meeting with Red Sox owner John Henry and the two met for 90 minutes in Atlanta, where Varitek lives. This was not a negotiating session; while neither side offered details, it was obvious the meeting was a clear-the-air session in which Varitek reiterated his desire to return to the Red Sox.

The Red Sox finally made another offer, a week ago, and asked for a response by Friday. There were indications Varitek would sooner retire or sit out until June, when no draft picks would be required as compensation, than accept the offer.

By early afternoon, there was pessimism on Yawkey Way. But after some minor tweaking of incentive clauses, the sides finally struck a deal.

Varitek will be paid a guaranteed $5 million in 2009. The club has a $5 million option for 2010; if the club chooses not to exercise it, Varitek has a $3 million player option. There is an additional $2 million in incentives based on games played should Varitek exercise the player option.

The deal is similar in some respects to the one reached by a Yankee icon, pitcher Andy Pettitte, who early in negotiations rejected a $10 million offer and recently signed for a guaranteed $5.5 million, maxing out at $12 million if he achieves his performance bonuses.

In the end, the Varitek deal was a long and exhausting road to a settlement in which the player and agent appear to have miscalculated the market. Varitek strained his relationship with his bosses and sullied his reputation with some fans, who in chat rooms and on the airwaves wondered how the man with the “C” on his uniform jersey could come across as if he was grasping for every last cent. Granted, the greed card is always played by fans, but in this instance, given Varitek’s deep ties to the team and the town, a lot of people seemed to take this one personally.

It’s all business – Epstein and Boras both see it as nothing more. But contrast the scene to 2004 when the Red Sox signed Varitek to a four-year, $40 million contract and used the occasion to officially announce him as captain.

“It’s not every day,” Epstein said at the time, “that you’re lucky enough to find a player who embodies everything you want your franchise to be … the rock of your franchise.”

This time, even before Varitek came to terms, the Red Sox were already looking for his successor. They have shown interest in young Texas Rangers catchers Jarrod Saltalamacchia and Taylor Teagarden, and the Arizona DiamondbacksMiguel Montero. Up to now, they’ve been unwilling to part with top pitching prospect Clay Buchholz. But if off-season acquisitions Brad Penny and John Smoltz prove healthy, or prospect Michael Bowden comes fast, the Red Sox might reconsider that position.

In the meantime, Manny, good luck to you. The last time we checked, the Los Angeles Dodgers remain the only team to have made you an offer and the San Francisco Giants appear to be the only other team with interest. Yes, we realize that unlike Varitek, you remain one of the game’s most feared hitters, but other baggage – and asking price – seem to have created a limited market for your services. Boras said this week things were “heating up.” We’ll see.

Gordon Edes is a national baseball writer for Yahoo! Sports. Send Gordon a question or comment for potential use in a future column or webcast.
Updated Friday, Jan 30, 2009