Jason Varitek eyes 2011 and beyond
BOSTON -- Catcher Jason Varitek celebrated his return to game action Tuesday after missing 58 games with a fractured right foot by reiterating his hopes of playing another few years, which he'd first expressed back in spring training.
I forced the issue to make sure I stayed here. I don't know if I'll have the opportunity to do that again.” -- Red Sox catcher Jason Varitek
But will Varitek be prolonging his career in a Boston Red Sox uniform?
Varitek's presence this season was assured only after he exercised a player option in his contract that mandated his return to the club for $3 million, or $2 million less than the club option the team declined to exercise.
Now the Sox captain, who this season accepted his role as backup to Victor Martinez, is facing another changed landscape. The Sox not only have to decide whether to retain Martinez, who is eligible for free agency, but they also have another catcher, Jarrod Saltalamacchia, for whom they were willing to give up two prospects to acquire.
Where does that leave Varitek?
"I have no idea," he said Tuesday night.
Would he be willing to go anywhere, if that's what it took to continue playing?
"That's a real loaded question for me," he said, "from the standpoint of I've worn this uniform with a lot of pride. But it's probably going to be out of my hands. I think I have skills to offer this game, and a lot to offer, [but] I may have to be faced with that question, or answer."
Varitek signed a four-year, $40 million deal after the 2004 season, but after a drastic dropoff in performance in 2008, when he batted just .220, Varitek became a free agent. He elected to return to the Sox, even though they cut his annual salary in half, to $5 million.
Another disappointing season in 2009, in which he batted just .209 and lost the everyday job to Martinez, resulted in the club declining its option on him last winter.
"I forced the issue to make sure I stayed here," he said of exercising his player option. "I don't know if I'll have the opportunity to do that again."
But Varitek, who has played through myriad injuries in the course of his Sox career -- "I may need one of their [medical] charts," he joked when asked to enumerate them all this spring -- said he is as healthy as he has been in quite some time.
"No question things healthwise have turned the corner -- outside of a freak broken bone -- that allowed me to do things at a high level," Varitek said.
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"I definitely want to play another year. I'd like to play a few more years. We'll just have to see if things go the other direction. If I wasn't healthy, I'd have to really evaluate, but I've made some drastic improvements. I'm almost rejuvenated, so to speak."
Varitek has played in just 35 games this season, but in his limited action he is batting .258 with seven home runs and 16 RBIs in just 97 at-bats. He also has thrown out six of 32 runners who have attempted to steal, a success rate of 18.7 percent.
"I've probably thrown the ball as good or better than I ever have in my entire life," he said. "A lot of things I take pride in, being able to block the ball and move, so I think at some level I'm doing things better than I have."
He has some good baseball left in him, he said.
"At the plate, you better make some pitches," he said. "Behind the plate, I'm moving and doing things very well. We'll see."
How much will Varitek play the rest of the way? "I don't know," manager Terry Francona said Tuesday night.
That doesn't mean his days in Boston are numbered, but no one should be surprised if they are.
Gordon Edes covers the Red Sox for ESPNBoston.com. Follow him on Twitter.
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