I love how Manny Ramirez talk has quickly turned into discussion revolving around Jason Varitek and whether the Sox should give him the long-term deal he seems to be seeking. I've found that fans seem to be calling his value into question due to his obvious struggles at the plate in 2008. It's clear he will struggle to ever hit over .250 again but he wasn't the only reason the Red Sox didn't hit in the ALCS. Granted, he was awful (1 for 20, 8 K's) but not having a healthy David Ortiz and having a shadow of Mike Lowell was closer to the source of Boston's offensive ineptitude.
Fans recall the most recent statistics stored in our memory banks and, I'm guilty of this as well, we tend to forget past performance. I don't think Varitek is as bad as he looked in the regular season or playoffs in 2008. I ripped him pretty badly if you'll recall during the playoffs, which was well-deserved, but the more I think about it the more reason I have to believe he won't be an instant out next year.
First, you can't neglect the fact that he went through a divorce. Domestic turmoil can wear heavily on players. (I'm assuming you've heard the Hazel rumors from a few years back.) Next, I don't think we should be expecting a .300 average from him but I'm confident he can approach the 17 home runs and 68 RBI he totaled in '07. He's a mistake hitter who had an off-year, albeit awful timing. Lastly, things will really come together if Theo finds a way to bring in a young backup catcher for Varitek. Having a reliable backup can only help the captain stay fresh as the season hits the doldrums of August. Having him fresh and healthy could make more of an impact than you realize.
Even if everything I just said proves to be completely wrong, Varitek has value both defensively and "calling the game". The latter has been talked about ad nauseam and many fans feel it's an overrated aspect of baseball. I was careful to watch how Varitek handled the Sox hurlers during the playoffs. I looked for how many times they shook him off, how he set up batters late in counts, adjustments he would make with hitters who had success in later at bats ect... While he isn't the reason for a pitcher's success or failure on the mound, his ability to keep hitters off balance with his pitch selection can't be understated.
Theo is going to have to find an eventual replacement, that much has been made abundantly clear. Varitek has more value to the Sox than any other team and I don't see anyone giving him a 4-year deal. Final prediction: Tek signs a 3 year/$30 million contract. He'll be worth the money for at least the first year and maybe even the second because of his handling of young pitchers (look for him to spend a great deal of time with Michael Bowden in spring training).