Kicking the Can

The year after everyone got sick of people being pushed in front of or hurled beneath moving mass-transportation vehicles, we come to 2009's contribution to the ever-growing cliche lexicon: Kicking the can down the road.

George Bush was accused of doing it with Iraq. Congress is accused of doing it with entitlement reform. And the Boston Red Sox are about to do it — again — with their catcher situation.

The etymology of the phrase is easy enough to figure out, which is more than can be said for the Sox' plans for 2009-10 behind the plate. The Sox offered incumbent starter-Captain-intangiblemeister a $5 million contract for 2009 with a team option for another $5 million in 2010, or a player option for $3 million. That's a guaranteed $8 million over two years — two more years for the Sox to find a starting catcher after trading away two options (Kelly Shoppach and Josh Bard) during the past four.

When the Sox offered what appeared to be a willing overpay to Varitek in 2004 — four years, $40 million for performance that surprisingly wound up being worth just about $40 million — it was believed to either be a career-ending deal, or a deal that at least finished up Varitek's time as a starting catcher in Boston. The Sox in 2004 chose to kick the Varitek-replacement can a long way down the road. Yet here we are, kicking the can again.

Hey, sometimes that just happens. The Sox in retrospect should have held on to Shoppach and figured out another way to acquire Coco Crisp. Of course, they received Josh Bard in return, and trading him to the Padres didn't even require hindsight to look poor. Efforts to acquire catching (Kottaras for Wells, drafting Brown and Wagner) haven't panned out as well as hoped, while few quality catchers have been available for trade, and none at all have become free agents. This past offseason has seen a striking number of potentially available catchers in the trade market, which looked promising but has so far proven disappointing — the catchers all have significant question marks, and the teams' asking prices have been too high.

So here we are again, with Jason Varitek, who has until Saturday to decide whether the only offer he has is good enough for him to take. The betting here is that he'll take it, giving the Sox a little more leverage in the hopes of driving down the asking price for a young catcher to take Tek's miserable at-bats against right-handed pitchers and be the much-ballyhooed protege for the Captain's allegedly amazing game-calling and game-preparation skills.

Hopefully, that works out. Otherwise we'll be coming across that can soon enough.

8 comments… add one
  • I don’t think the Sox gain much leverage at all by signing Varitek. What does Texas care how Boston performs? They set a price on their catchers, and it’s Buchholz, or another stud young starter. That’s not because the Sox need a catcher, it’s because Texas has a multitude of catchers. They will always have the leverage, because they don’t need to trade anyone. Even moreso with Arizona, who would actively hurt their major league team by trading Montero. I guess Bowden cuts it for them, but it’s pretty obvious why they (or anyone else, really) have absolutely no interest in a minor league reliever who has control problems, one real pitch, and has never pitched above AA.
    You’ve got to give up value to get value. It’s known that Theo was against trading Hanley, and as written above, we’ve seen his trades blow up in his face time after time. I wonder if he’s simply gun-shy, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing.

    AndrewYF January 27, 2009, 12:11 pm
  • They will always have the leverage, because they don’t need to trade anyone.
    But they do need pitching, wchich the Red Sox have in excess. The sox being able to essentially say, “We;ve got our solution. You don’t.” is indeed additional leverage, though not necessarily a significant amount.
    we’ve seen his trades blow up in his face time after time.
    Seems there was one that turned out decently last year involving Jason Bay. And who was that guy Schilling the Sox traded for? That seemed to work out OK. And seems there was another deal right around the 2004 trading deadline that everyone agrees ended up pretty well…

    Paul SF January 27, 2009, 1:00 pm
  • Didn’t say he didn’t make good trades, just that he’s made some pretty awful ones, especially recently. Theo’s a guy who falls in love with his prospects. He has, wrong or right, the same obsession with Buchholz that Cashman has with Hughes. And to a lesser extent Bowden. I think it’s pretty reasonable to assume that the trades you mentioned in the post combined with his love for his own prospects is the main obstacle in the Sox getting their future long-term catcher, not the demands of Texas or Arizona that have no reason to go down. The Sox aren’t the only team that needs a good catcher, but even with Varitek, they still might be the most desperate. Everyone knows that Varitek is not actually the solution. Why can’t Texas or Arizona know that?

    AndrewYF January 27, 2009, 1:17 pm
  • John Updike, who penned for The New Yorker this tribute to Ted Williams’ final game, has died. He was 76.

    I'mBillMcNeal January 27, 2009, 1:59 pm
  • Write this down: Andrew and I agree.

    I'mBillMcNeal January 27, 2009, 2:02 pm
  • “The Sox aren’t the only team that needs a good catcher, but even with Varitek, they still might be the most desperate.”
    I’m not sure how the Red Sox would be the “most desperate.” (But, yes, “desperate” is arguably appropriate.) I think you’re splitting hairs. The Yankees, for one, aren’t in real good shape behind the plate, either. Posada can hit and Molina can catch, but neither can do both very well anymore.
    And although I might rate a Molina/Posada platoon higher than a Varitek/Bard platoon right now, it wouldn’t be notably higher.

    I'mBillMcNeal January 27, 2009, 2:14 pm
  • I think we agree on Theo’s love (sometimes seemigly irrational) for his prospects, though a lot of that has to do with how well they seem to have done thus far. On the flip side, he has traded players like Hansen, Moss, Murphy — but they certainly weren’t capital-P prospects a la Buchholz, Hughes, etc.

    Paul SF January 27, 2009, 2:26 pm
  • i don’t buy the sox having any trading leverage by signing tek…you won’t find any gm falling for that one…if he was the sox “solution” as is being suggested, they would have wrapped him up earlier, even if it meant overspending a few mil…they correctly read his value and the market demand for his services…nobody was knocking down his door to talk to him, either because of a lack of need at the moment, or a difference of opinion of his perceived value…trust me, if “handling pitchers” was so valuable, someone would have snapped him up…catcher is a tough position to fill given the expectations beyond merely being able to catch a pitched ball…tek’s value to the sox is as insurance, in case the other guys don’t get it done…the worst case is that he winds up being a highly paid coach…another plot twist to consider is if posada struggles behind the plate [defensively] and winds up taking most of his at bats as a dh, the yanks might enter the discussion and erode any real or perceived leverage that paul may think the sox have…i’m just saying, the sox may not be the only team, with young pitching to spare, interested in acquiring a promising young catcher to replace an aging incumbent…

    dc January 27, 2009, 4:09 pm

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