Red Sox give Varitek deadline on offer

Red Sox give Varitek deadline on offer

BOSTON -- The Red Sox should know by the end of the week if Jason Varitek, their primary catcher since 1999, will be part of their 2009 squad.

A source confirmed Tuesday that the Red Sox have set a Friday deadline for Varitek to accept or decline the formal offer made last week. The Red Sox should know within days whether Varitek will be back.

That offer would pay Varitek a base salary of $5 million for 2009. The deal also includes a 2010 option in which the club would first have the right to exercise at $5 million. If the Red Sox declined to do so, Varitek would have the right to kick in the option at $3 million. Otherwise, he could again become a free agent.

If Varitek doesn't accept the offer by the deadline, the Red Sox are likely to proceed with alternate catching plans.

One possibility is that the Red Sox will ratchet up trade talks with the D-backs for Miguel Montero and with the Rangers for Taylor Teagarden or Jarrod Saltalamacchia.

As a matter of fact, even if Varitek does return to the fold, general manager Theo Epstein is still likely to continue his pursuit of a talented young catcher of the future. Under that scenario, part of Varitek's role going forward would be to mentor that prospect.

The Red Sox did sign catcher Josh Bard to a contract in late December, though he is viewed more as a backup. Dusty Brown and George Kottaras are both coming off solid years at Triple-A Pawtucket, but only time will tell if either player is ready for the Major Leagues.

Varitek, who will be 37 in April, is coming off the worst offensive season (.220, 13 homers, 43 RBIs) of his career. However, even through those struggles, he remained a glue for the pitching staff and a respected leader in the clubhouse. Varitek has been Boston's captain since 2005.

The market for Varitek hit a snag on Dec. 7, when the catcher declined Boston's offer of salary arbitration. Had Varitek accepted that, it would have solidified his return to Boston for 2009 at an approximate salary of $10-12 million.

However, Varitek was looking for a multi-year offer and also might have been leery of the fact that salaries awarded in arbitration are non-guaranteed.

Hot Stove

The arbitration offer made by the Red Sox hurt Varitek's market, as prospective suitors were reluctant to sign the Type A free agent because they didn't want to give up the compensatory Draft pick.

On Jan. 16, Red Sox principal owner John W. Henry flew to Atlanta to meet directly with Varitek. The meeting was requested by Varitek, and did not include agent Scott Boras.

With pitchers and catchers scheduled to report to Fort Myers, Fla., on Feb. 12, the Red Sox are eager to get the Varitek situation resolved one way or the other.

By Saturday, they should have a far better read on what their catching situation will look like for 2009.

Varitek, a three-time All-Star, has played 1,330 games, all with the Red Sox. He is a career .263 hitter with 161 homers and 654 RBIs.

Ian Browne is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.