McAdam: Varitek's true legacy will shine through in time


McAdam: Varitek's true legacy will shine through in time

In the here-and-now, in the immediate aftermath of the instant-24-hour-news-cycle, there's a predictability to the reaction of Kelly Shoppach's arrival, and thus, Jason Varitek's expected departure.

About time! -- and that's one of the kinder responses from a fan base eager to be cleansed of everything associated with the dreadful finish to the 2011 Red Sox season.

The numbers -- and the anecdotal evidence -- will suggest that the end of Varitek's long Red Sox career was hardly some sort of noble swan song.

He hit just .221 for the season and almost one of every three at-bats concluded with a strikeout. Against righthanders, he hit just .200 for the season and in the second-half of the season, hit a paltry .176 against everybody.

The numbers only told half the story. As captain, Varitek appeared unable or unwilling to use his status to halt the team's poor play in the final month, to say nothing of the fraternity-like behavior in the clubhouse.

Argue if you will that Varitek's reduced role in recent seasons rendered him ineffectual and that he didn't carry the same authority as he did five or six seasons ago.

But Varitek also seemed powerless to reverse the slide of the team's pitching staff -- whose 7.27 ERA for the month of September epitomized the club's collapse -- when the Sox won just 7 of their final 27 games. On the final night of the season, with starting catcher Jarrod Saltalamacchia slumping, former manager Terry Francona elected to go with rookie Ryan Lavarnway behind the plate rather than Varitek.

There's no escaping the fact that Varitek slipped -- both at the plate and behind it -- in recent seasons. In retrospect, perhaps the surprise is that he lasted through his 39th birthday in a Red Sox uniform.

But it's not fair, either, to evaluate a player solely by his twilight seasons. The fact remains that for much of his 14 full seasons with the Red Sox, beginning in 1998, Varitek was usually among the top handful of catchers in the game.

In his prime, he was dependable, durable -- exactly two trips to the DL from 1998 through 2009, for a fractured elbow in 2001 and knee surgery in 2006 -- and accomplished.

He won just one Gold Glove, but probably should have won more. From his first full season with the Sox through 2005, he threw out an average of 26 percent of opposing base-stealers -- not Pudge Rodriguez territory, but still, plenty good enough.

At the same time, he averaged an .806 OPS, a terrific number for a catcher.

Of course, many of Varitek's most critical contributions weren't on the stat sheet or the back of his baseball card. Pitcher after pitcher lauded him for his diligent preparation, his expert game-calling and his quiet leadership.

He caught four no-hitters -- a major league record for a catcher -- and did it with four different pitchers, some established (Hideo Nomo, Derek Lowe) and some not (Clay Buchholz, Jon Lester).

(Varitek would have caught a fifth, but Curt Schilling ignored Varitek's suggestion with two outs in the ninth inning and lost a no-hitter when Oakland's Shannon Stewart singled to break up a no-hit bid in 2007. "I shook 'Tek off," said a regretful Schilling afterward, "and I get a big what-if for the rest of my life.")

In perhaps his signature moment in a Red Sox uniform, he famously gave Alex Rodriguez a face wash in July of 2004. Tired of ARod's complaining about being a target for Red Sox pitchers, Varitek intercepted him on his way to first base and shoved his catcher's mitt in his face.

It's an image that Red Sox' fans hold dear. At a time when the rivalry seemed altogether too polite and civil, Varitek supplied some good old fashioned animus from the 1970s. It didn't matter that, at the time, they shared the same agent or that it became unfashionable to dislike your opponent.

In a way, the Red Sox' comeback in the ALCS didn't start in the ninth inning of Game 4, but rather that summer afternoon when Varitek defended his pitchers and said, in no uncertain terms, that the Sox weren't going to be pushed around.

In the next 39 months, the Red Sox won their first two World Series since World War I. Varitek was the starting catcher in all eight World Series games, each one of them a Red Sox win.

With the proper time is passed, that -- and not the aging catcher who had trouble making contact or throwing out the slowest of baserunners -- should be Jason Varitek's legacy.

Top prospect Yoan Moncada will join Red Sox on Friday

Top prospect Yoan Moncada will join Red Sox on Friday

BOSTON - The Boston Red Sox have announced they will call up top prospect Yoan Moncada when rosters expand from the current 25-man limit.

Earlier Wednesday, Farrell wouldn't officially confirm the imminent promotion but hinted that the Red Sox appeared ready to call up their top prospect.

Farrell first noted that the Red Sox "need better production'' at third base, where both Travis Shaw and Aaron Hill have struggled mightily at the position.

Moncada, a natural second baseman, was shifted to third base earlier this month at Double A Portland. Moncada has a slash line of .285/.388/.547 with 11 homers and 27 RBI in 44 games.

Asked specifically about the potential of a call-up for Moncada, Farrell said: "We've talked about Yoan. And not just as a pinch-runner. It's an exciting young player, an extremely talented guy. There's all positive reviews and evaluations of him.

"When that major league experience is going to initiate, time will tell that. But in terms of playing the position of third base [in the big leagues], that conversation has been had.''

Previously, the Red Sox had resisted bringing Moncada to the big leagues, worried that he wouldn't be in the lineup often enough to continue his development. The Sox didn't want him to miss out on additional experience in the minors by playing only part-time in the majors.

But now that the minor league seasons are about to end -- Portland finishes Labor Day -- there's nothing in the minors for Moncada to miss.

"This is a different scenario than if it were July or early August,'' said Farrell. "The minor league season ends [soon], so is there benefit to him just being here? The answer to that is yes. Do you weigh playing 'X' number of games per week versus what he could be doing at Portland or Pawtucket? Well, that goes away [with the minor league regular seasons end].

"So, again, by all accounts, there's nothing but positives that could come out of experience here -- if that were to happen.''

 Moncada's promotion is similar to the one experience by Xander Bogaerts in 2013, who was brought up in the final week of August 2013 and remained with the club all the way through the end of the team's World Series run that fall, taking playing time from struggling third baseman Will Middlebrooks.

 "For those who have been around this team for a number of years,'' said Farrell, "teams that have had success have always had an injection of young players late in the season that have helped carry the team through the postseason. I think Yoan would be in a similar category to when Pedey [Dustin Pedroia], when Jake [Jacoby Ellsbury] came into the picture. And Andrew (Benintendi) is already here, so I wouldn't separate [Moncada] out from that at all.

"In fact, he's a direct comparison [to those cases].’’

Farrell agreed that the arrival of a young, highly-touted player can inject some energy into a team in the throes of a pennant race.

"Absolutely, there is,'' said Farrell. "You've got a newness element. You've got, likely, above-average speed. You've got athleticism. You've got the unknown across the field on how does a given [opposing] team attack a given guy.

"In the cases we've talked about, it has been beneficial to us for the young player to come up. They find a way to contribute in a meaningful role. "

Without saying that Moncada's promotion was a definite,  he said "there's a lot [of positives]going for it.''

Farrell also acknowledged that the Sox held internal discussions about how Moncada would be utilized, given that the switch-hitter has been far more productive from the left side of the plate.

"We've talked about what's strong side, how do you look to best ease him in, so to speak,'' said Farrell. "We thought that with Benintendi, how do we best ease him in. Well, he blew the doors off of that one [with his early success]. So, if it happens, and if begins here soon, you'll all be aware.''

Farrell said the reports of Moncada's transition to third base have been encouraging despite three errors in his first nine games there.

"He's shown good range, an above-average arm,'' said Farrell. "Where there will be ongoing work and continued development, just as there was at second base, is the ball hit straight at him. That's just pure technique and fundamental positioning with hands and feet.

"But as far as range to his glove side, moving to third base, that seemingly has not been that big of a challenge for him.''