The Once and Future Captain? Analyzing Jason Varitek's Meeting with John Henry

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The Once and Future Captain? Analyzing Jason Varitek's Meeting with John Henry

It’s almost cliché by now: the Red Sox still need a catcher, and their catcher-captain is still out there, eager to return.

But after months of near silence on whether 'Tek would re-sign with the Sox, months packed with rumors about young prospects and expensive trades, word came Friday that Jason Varitek and John Henry would meet near 'Tek's home outside Atlanta, one-on-one, no Boras (no bull), at 'Tek’s request.

While the real news here doesn’t go much beyond that—they met, and it “went OK”—the import of those 90 minutes could be huge. Has a tide turned? Is the roster’s last and biggest gaping hole about to be filled?

This meeting wasn’t about a contract, with only John Henry on hand. But, piecing together the scraps from NESN, Sean McAdam, and Tony Massarotti, we have a picture of a sort, and room in it for a little embroidery:

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Way back when, the Red Sox offered Varitek arbitration. 'Tek turned it down, telling his agent that he wanted more than one year, and years were more important than money.

OK, so this gets interesting right off the bat. In the NESN report we’re told that Varitek has said he actually didn’t know about the compensation draft pick other teams would have to give Boston to sign him.

He blames himself for the oversight, they say, and all this has raised some eyebrows. "He didn’t know?!" I hear you cry. But it seems to me people are raising the wrong eyebrow: the outcry should be, “Boras didn’t tell him?!” 

The fact is, 'Tek has only been a free agent once before in his long career, and in ’04 the draft picks never became an issue. He’s had the same agent for 16 years, and trusts that very competent (if slightly evil) agent to see to this sort of thing as he always has, and as he’s paid to do.

And, while Boras failing to mention the fact looks bad now, it’s not so surprising either. ‘Tek asked for more than one year, and Boras thought he could get it for him. No need to worry the client with extraneous details...

One last point here, and it’s one I find funny, because, yes, I’m very easily amused. An amazing number of people have jumped on the idea that ‘Tek must be lying about not knowing. Folks, what precisely would that achieve? He’s supposed to have made up a story about a massive oversight he didn’t actually make and then admitted to it publicly because...?

I’ve given up trying to understand this. The nearest I’ve heard to an explanation was that “it’s called crawling back.” And that would be fine, but that 'Tek isn’t “crawling back” from anywhere. He has nothing to apologize for—Boras is another matter—and hasn’t moved at all from his hope of more than one year.

 

Scott Boras was out of Boston’s good graces, and negotiations had ground to a halt.

So...“out of good graces” is putting it really mildly. Henry didn’t actually spit venom Friday when asked about his relationship with Boras (Henry: “What relationship?”), but he came about as close as you can get with your fangs still retracted.

When you hit the point of no longer returning phone calls, and when the guy calling is the agent of a player you actually still intend to sign, odds are the focus has slipped right off of contracts and onto “how do I hate thee, Boras, let me count the ways.”

 

Varitek decided to take a hand, and called to request a one-on-one meeting with the team’s principal owner. Henry then flew down to meet with Varitek near 'Tek’s home, outside Atlanta.

This is the critical point, right here. Even without knowing what was discussed, the fact that the meeting took place as it did speaks volumes. 'Tek reached out, without his agent.  Message to the Sox: “You’re ‘not happy’ with Boras, and I get that, but please set it aside for a moment. This is about me, the guy who’s lived for this team for a decade and led it for years, and I want to come back.” 

And Henry? Henry didn’t say, “Fine, I’ll be in my office tomorrow.” He flew down to where Varitek lives. For months there was just silence, and even phone calls weren’t returned, but the moment 'Tek steps in personally and without Boras, the team’s principal owner hops on a plane to see him. Message to 'Tek: “All that feuding wasn’t about you. We’re furious with Boras, sure, but not with you, and this is the first chance to show it.”

 

Varitek made clear his desire to stay with the team, and even to retire as a Red Sox. The two met for 90 minutes, and “it went OK.”

I’ll join the crowd in wishing I could have been a fly on that wall. What really went on in that hour and a half?

It’s no news that 'Tek doesn’t plan on retiring next year; was he trying to convince Henry he’s still got many years of play left in him? Did they talk about the long range, maybe a coaching job down the road? Or did they spend most of their meeting chatting about old times, and taking turns doodling moustaches on pictures of Boras? One can only hope.

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The meeting happened. NESN learned that negotiations would resume within a few days, which suggests it went more than “OK.” It would seem they're ready to move past the Boston-Boras stare down, as entertaining as that has been.

And if they really are at long last edging toward a deal? Well, that can only be good for everyone involved: 'Tek will be back at the job he loves, and the pitching staff will be elated; ownership gets the catcher they wanted after first enjoying the chance to make Boras squirm; and Theo? Theo can stop trying to keep a straight face when he says, “Sure! Bard, Kottaras, Brown, and Wagner will be just fine for the ’09 season…”

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