Jason Varitek's Legacy (Or Not)

BALTIMORE, MD: Jason Varitek of the Boston Red Sox walks in from the outfield after throwing before the start of the Red Sox game against the Baltimore Orioles at Oriole Park at Camden Yards in Baltimore, Maryland. (Photo by Rob Carr/Getty Images)

Free agent Jason Varitek remains unsigned and the Red Sox have two catchers ahead of him. Will Varitek, almost 40, continue his career with another club? Should he?

By all accounts, Jason Varitek would like to continue playing baseball. Preferably, and probably exclusively, under the auspices of Major League Baseball. And even at (almost) 40, he probably still can play. In limited duty the last two seasons, Varitek's batted .225/.297/.440, and that last figure elevates his performance to "hey, that's not bad for a catcher" territory.

Especially a catcher who by all accounts knows his pitchers like he knows his own gnarly, battered fingers.

Of course Varitek can't throw at all any more. Last season he threw out only 12 percent of the runners who tried to steal against him; two seasons ago -- the last time Varitek was the Red Sox' regular catcher -- he threw out eight percent. Essentially, he's become Mike Piazza back there when it comes to the running game.

Which doesn't actually lead to a great deal of runs for the other teams, but can be difficult to watch if you're a fan of, or employed by, the Boston Red Sox.

Another, bigger issue: the Boston Red Sox now have two catchers -- Jarrod Saltalamacchia and Kelly Shoppach -- they seem to like more than Varitek. And these days especially it's hard to find room for three catchers.

So what of Jason Varitek's future with the Red Sox, the only team he's ever played for? Nick Cafardo:

Could he come to spring training as a nonroster player and win a job, or be ready in case one of the others gets hurt? Of course.

Could he summon the desire to play for another team?

There is no doubt what Varitek brings to the table. His knowledge of his pitchers and game plans are unparalleled.

If you need someone to straighten out a staff, he’s the guy. If you need someone to mentor a young catcher, he’s the one.

One of the few places he would seem to fit is Minnesota, where Joe Mauer will need time to DH and rest. Ryan Doumit will be a DH most of the time and back up Mauer, but the Twins will likely carry three catchers.

But there is his legacy to think about.

It's hard to imagine a more personal choice than that between playing for another season -- plying one's chosen trade, and being well compensated for it -- and locking up one's legacy. However hard that last might be to define.

Are people really going to remember or care if Varitek spends a few months wearing a Twins uniform? Cafardo references Dwight Evans (disapprovingly) and Jorge Posada (approvingly); Evans finished his career with one season in Baltimore after 19 in Boston, while Posada called it quits this winter when the Yankees didn't want him.

But of course we can't know what was in either player's head, exactly. We also can't know if Posada actually had any solid offers to play in 2012.

Also, and I don't relish mentioning this, but it's not Varitek's been the Second Coming of Johnny Bench or something. He's got 1,307 career hits. He's won a Gold Glove. He never finished better than 21st in MVP balloting. He was a really good player and a key piece of two World Championship teams; perhaps only the Red Sox front office knows how much Varitek meant to the franchise, both statistically and emotionally.

Will playing for another club really change how Red Sox fans think about Jason Varitek? I sure wouldn't think so. All that really matters now is what Jason Varitek thinks. Well, him and all the general managers who might offer him a job. Anybody in the market for an (almost) 40-year-old catcher with some power who can't throw or play more than half the time?

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