Jason Varitek: Why He Signed with the St. Paul Saints of the Northern League

Harold FriendChief Writer IJuly 11, 2011

Scott Boras
Scott BorasJim McIsaac/Getty Images

In one of the great "steals" ever, the Boston Red Sox acquired catcher Jason Varitek and pitcher Derek Lowe from the Seattle Mariners in exchange for Heathcliff Slocumb, but there was much intrigue before Varitek agreed to terms with the Mariners.

Varitek's agent, Scott Boras, encouraged his client to challenge baseball's amateur draft.

The Mariners made Varitek their first round selection in the June 1994 draft. The following January, Varitek signed with the St. Paul Saints of the independent Northern League.

Boras and Varitek contended that when he signed with the Saints, a member of a professional league unaffiliated with MLB, the Seattle Mariners no longer had any rights to the future Red Sox catcher.

They also claimed Varitek was no longer subject to the next amateur draft if he didn't sign with Seattle.

MLB shot back that under its Rule 4 draft, any player who has not signed with a major league team or with a minor league team affiliated with a major league club is subject to the next draft.

Boras, of course, countered with a solid argument worthy of Alan Shore or Denny Crane of Boston Legal.

"In the book, it's called the Rule 4 Amateur Free-Agent Draft. I don't know how they can expand it to include professional players," Boras told Murray Chass of the New York Times.

Things are quite different today, as recent amateur free agent signings show, but in 1995, Varitek and Boras were upset with the Mariners offer.

In a statement, Varitek said he wanted $850,000 to sign and that he had been offered $425,000.

Varitek never played for the St. Paul Saints because on Apr. 20, he signed with the Mariners for $650,000.

Baseball Weekly reported that Varitek said at a press conference that "It had gotten to the point where I was convinced that I was going to go to St. Paul and never play for Seattle."

Boras, of course, insisted that the matter was a matter of principle. He told reporters that Varitek had returned to Georgia Tech for his senior year, refusing a $350,000 signing offer from the Minnesota Twins, who had selected him in the 1993 draft.

It was considered completely unacceptable when the Mariners made the same offer a year later to the player that Baseball America ranked as the greatest catcher in college baseball history.

The first amateur draft was held in 1965. The purpose was to hold down the amount of money given to amateur free agents as well as to prevent rich teams (read that New York Yankees and Los Angeles Dodgers) from dominating the market.

That worked for a while, but recently, players who have yet to play in a major league game have received multi-year contracts worth millions of dollars.

Jason Varitek never played for the Mariners. He made his major league debut with the Red Sox in 1997, and the rest is history.

Varitek has batted .258/.342/.436, helped the Red Sox win two World Championships, and has been an All-Star three times.

The Red Sox and MLB are both grateful that Varitek didn't ultimately follow the lead of Andy Messersmith and Dave McNally.



Reference:

Chass, Murray. "Young Catcher Testing Major League Draft Rules." New York Times. 13 Jan 1995. p. B15.

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