Friday, December 18, 2009

Varitek ready for reserve role

Jason Varitek could have taken a look around the major leagues. There certainly would have been options out there for him -- and probably starting options too. As frustrating as it was at times to see Varitek struggle at the plate, he still finished the season with a better OPS (.703) than Geovany Soto, Russell Martin, Ivan Rodriguez, Jarrod Saltamacchia and Gerald Laird.

Heck, the Royals just signed Jason Kendall to a two-year deal.

But the 37-year-old catcher didn't take much time to exercise the $3 million player option included in the contract he signed a year ago.

"I don't think it was much of a decision for me," said Varitek, who laced up a borrowed pair of skates and joined Bobby Orr on the ice rink at Fenway Park. "That was part of what I set out to do and what was so important to me a year ago, at this time last year: I wanted an opportunity to have a second year. If need be, my role changes, and we'll see that. But, most importantly to me, I'm here and had the opportunity to come back and be in Boston."

In some ways, Varitek is intrigued to see how he'll do catching once or twice a week. He played catcher full-time until the arrival of Victor Martinez on July 31, and he saw his OPS dwindle in every month of the season:
* April, .881
* May, .824
* June, .750
* July, .736
* August, .483
* September, .382

Part of it was injury-related: Varitek said today he played part of the season with a broken big toe. But part of it was the wear and tear associated with catching, and a lighter load behind the plate might mean a more productive bat.

"Seeing how my body adapts to less pounding and less physical grind, it might be a good time for me to transition," he said. "I'm preparing, as I always do, to be able to handle as much as I can. I'll prepare for a full-time role even though it's dictated another way. That way, if something happens, I'm ready to go."

Varitek made sure to get a player option included in last year's contract to ensure he wouldn't be left out in the cold this year. At this early stage, though, he's not about to make any proclamations about a planned retirement when this contract expires.

"I don't really know," he said. "As far as when retirement is, I'm not really thinking about that. I'm thinking about preparing and physically getting ready and mentally getting ready for the season, healing up and getting healthy and getting strong and getting ready for the next one."

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