Commentary

Will Jason Varitek, Red Sox part ways?

Updated: October 4, 2010, 10:07 AM ET
By Gordon Edes | ESPNBoston.com

BOSTON -- On a day that had all the feel of a last goodbye, Boston Red Sox captain Jason Varitek said he was prepared mentally and emotionally for the possibility that he has played his last game in a Sox uniform.

"I'll have to deal with it," said Varitek, acknowledging that the thought of wearing another uniform was strange to contemplate.

Varitek, who turns 39 next April, cautioned not to rule out scenarios in which he could return.

[+] EnlargeJason Varitek
Michael Ivins/Getty ImagesJason Varitek hugs starting catcher Victor Martinez as he reaches the Sox dugout after being pulled in the ninth inning.

"One thing I've always been able to do is be realistic," he said after Sunday's season finale, an 8-4 win over the New York Yankees, "so we'll just have to see. There's about a billion scenarios in play out there, and we'll have to see."

Varitek's estimate might be a bit on the high side, but his analysis of the coming offseason could not be truer.

"There are some players who have had some special years, my counterpart [catcher Victor Martinez], for one," Varitek said. "There are a lot of pieces. Major ones. They [the Red Sox] have got their hands full, I'm sure. That part, mine's smaller."

There was a just-in-case feel to what probably was Varitek's last day in a Red Sox uniform. Varitek's parents, a younger brother and his kids were all present. When Varitek came to the on-deck circle in the eighth inning, he spotted the middle of his three daughters, 10-year-old Kendall.

"They know I don't ever wave," Varitek said, "so I actually waved."

When he walked to the batter's box in the bottom of the eighth inning, a sellout crowd at Fenway Park rose in salute, just as it had done the day before for another favorite, Mike Lowell.

"I can't really say that every bone in my body wasn't shaking," he said. "I had to really try to take a few deep breaths and try to relax a little bit."

Lowell's final at-bat was a ball off the Monster that just missed being a home run. Varitek, in his last at-bat, launched an impressive drive as well, but to a much more unforgiving right-center field, where it was caught in front of the bullpen. In warmer climes, it would have carried over the fence.

There would be one last tribute, manager Terry Francona sending out Kevin Cash to catch the ninth after Varitek had warmed up Papelbon. "I knew it would embarrass him," Francona said, "but I did it anyway. He deserved it."

Varitek wants to stay in the only big league uniform he has worn, the one he put on when he was acquired as a minor leaguer from Seattle in 1997. This season, he adapted to a backup role behind Martinez better than anyone had a right to expect.

"Oh, man, amazing," Martinez said, his voice thick with emotion, of his relationship with Varitek. "I wish that if I come back here, I really want to be with him again."

As things stand, that doesn't appear likely. One, or both, backstops may not be back. Martinez had a terrific year offensively, and while GM Theo Epstein said "we'd love to see the relationship continue," the Sox elected not to sign a player who last spring said he preferred an extension over free agency. That suggests they have some reluctance to commit to him as their long-term catcher.

Varitek, meanwhile, seemed rejuvenated in his role as backup, at least until he broke his foot at the end of June. Without the daily grind, he was more active behind the plate and even hit a few balls out. But the Sox traded for Jarrod Saltalamacchia, who looks to be no worse than backup catcher going into next spring. They also put in a waiver claim on Angels catcher Mike Napoli, and while they weren't able to work out a deal, it was clear they were looking at their options.

"No matter what happens going forward, he's a Red Sox," Epstein said. "More than any one of us, he's a Red Sox. The future is uncertain. While the warmth the fans showed, and his teammates showed, may have seemed like a goodbye, it doesn't necessarily have to be that way.

"I think there's uncertainty with our catching situation, and we'll see how things turn out. That's the nature of the future. We just don't know. But for today, it was a very, very appropriate moment for a guy who has meant more to this franchise than just about anybody."

It's obvious, Varitek said, how "dear" Boston has been to him. It's impossible to measure how much Varitek has meant to all the pitchers -- from Pedro Martinez and Derek Lowe and Hideo Nomo, to Curt Schilling and Jon Lester and Clay Buchholz -- whose best interests he always placed ahead of his own.

"A leader in every sense of the word," pitching coach John Farrell said. "He leads by example. He leads by preparedness. He's a selfless player. You see the 'C' on his chest. Everybody sees, as players, the way he prepares and goes about his business.

"Every pitcher went to the mound feeling more confident because he was behind the plate. Wherever this goes from here, we have witnessed and experienced a tremendous competitor."

Gordon Edes is ESPNBoston.com's Red Sox reporter. He has covered the Red Sox for 12 years and has reported on baseball for 25 years. Ask a question for his next mailbag here.

Gordon Edes

Red Sox reporter, ESPNBoston.com

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