Source: Jason Varitek to retire on Thursday

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Source: Jason Varitek to retire on Thursday

FORT MYERS, Fla. -- Jason Varitek, whose celebratory hugs with battery-mates Keith Foulke and Jonathan Papelbon are indelibly linked to the only two world championships the Red Sox have won since 2001, will announce his retirement from baseball Thursday after 15 seasons with the club, a source confirmed.

A handful of catchers in recent baseball history -- including Carlton Fisk, Pudge Rodriguez and Bob Boone -- continued to play the game's most demanding position into their 40s. Varitek will fall a few weeks short of that milestone.

Varitek, who turns 40 in April and who served as Red Sox captain from 2005 through last season, had some interest shown to him by other clubs over the winter, but at his age, with declining production in recent seasons, couldn't envision finishing his career with a team other than the Red Sox.

The Sox had conveyed to Varitek over the winter that he could come to camp as a non-roster invitee, but told him there were no guarantees. The club's signing of free agent Kelly Shoppach during the off-season effectively closed the door for Varitek.

Jarrod Salatalamacchia, who took over as the team's No. 1 catcher last season, will continue in that role this season. Ryan Lavarnway, who has tremendous offensive upside but needs additional experience behind the plate at Pawtucket, is also considered to have a bright future and catching prospect Blake Swihart, drafted in the first round last summer, is regarded by some as the top position player in the team's minor league system.

Varitek will retire as the franchise leader in games caught. His 15 seasons with the Red Sox (1997-2001) are eclipsed only by Carl Yastrzemski (23 seasons), Ted Williams (19) and Jim Rice (16) when it comes to those who played their entire major league career with the Red Sox.

He hit .256 with 193 homers and 757 RBI. He won a Gold Glove and was chosen to three All-Star teams. He finishes his career ranked in the all-time Top 10 in several franchise categories, including games played, plate appearances, doubles and extra-base hits.

PROFILE: Jason Varitek, year-by-year

Varitek was obtained at the 1997 trade deadline from Seattle, along with Derek Lowe, for reliever Heathcliff Slocumb, surely one of the most lopsided deals in Red Sox history.

In addition to serving as the team's first captain since Jim Rice, Varitek's fight with the New York Yankees' Alex Rodriguez in the middle of the 2004 season seemed to represent a turning point in Red Sox history, a sign that the Sox were no longer intimidated by the Yankees and their past dominance
of the Sox.

Pitchers continually praised him for his preparation and knowledge of opposing hitters, none more so than Curt Schilling.

He proved remarkably durable in his career. From 1999 until 2009, he played in 100 or more games in every season but one and, over his 15-year career, was placed on the disabled list just twice -- once with a broken elbow and again, in 2010, with a broken foot.

He caught four no-hitters (Hideo Nomo, Derek Lowe, Jon Lester and Clay Buchholz), the most for any catcher in baseball history. He was the only player who played in the Little League World Series, the College World Series, the Olympic Games, the World Basbeall Classic and the World Series.

As recently as 2009, Varitek supplied respectable power numbers (14 homers and 51 RBI in 364 at-bats. But his playing time dipped drastically over the last two seasons as he played just 107 games combined in 2010 and 2011.

The Red Sox traded for Victor Martinez at the trade deadline in 2009 and he became the principal catcher over the final two months of that season and again in 2010.

Varitek's role was further diminished in 2010 when Saltalamacchia, after a brutal first month, seized the No. 1 catcher's role.

The Boston Globe was the first to report news of Varitek's retirement.

Morning Skate: Rangers seem to be a strong candidate for Shattenkirk

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Morning Skate: Rangers seem to be a strong candidate for Shattenkirk

Here are all the links from around the hockey world, and what I’m reading with Bruins captain’s practice set to kick off this coming week.

*The Rangers sound like they’ll be a strong candidate for Kevin Shattenkirk, and the Dallas Stars seem willing to stand pat at the goalie position.

*PHT writer James O’Brien speculates on who might be the next Artemi Panarin to break into the NHL ranks from overseas, and make a big impact.

*Yahoo fantasy hockey is making some changes this season, and those that liked to draft Dustin Byfuglien and Brent Burns are going to bummed about it.

*An original St. Louis Blues jersey from the old time hockey days has found its way back to its original home in St. Louis.

*Steve Simmons says that Dave Bolland has earned the right to be more than a punch line at this point in his career.

*Looking back on Phil Esposito’s classic speech amid the 1972 Summit Series.

*The All-Snub team for the World Cup of Hockey would be a talented lineup, and would no doubt be captained by P.K. Subban.

*For something completely different: those looking for signs of a rift between Bill Belichick and Tom Brady need to call off the search.

Belichick discusses risk of exposing players to waiver claims

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Belichick discusses risk of exposing players to waiver claims

Bill Belichick knows the data. Knows the risk involved in exposing a player to a waiver claim at this time of the year and long ago came to the uneasy truce that you can’t keep ‘em all and somebody else might snag ‘em.

This summer, the Patriots don’t have a mass of easy releases, especially among their rookies and first-year players.

There are a lot of very intriguing players who’ve looked good either in practices, games or both. Good enough to make the Pats think twice about whether they want to leave them exposed.

Top of mind for me there are corners Jonathan Jones and Cre’Von LeBlanc, linebacker Elandon Roberts, wide receiver DeAndre Carter, defensive lineman Woodrow Hamilton and running back D.J. Foster who appear to be right on the roster bubble but are impressive.

“It’s something you take into consideration, it’s a hard thing to predict,” Belichick said when asked about weighing the risk of a released player the Patriots would like to re-sign to their practice squad getting claimed. “There’s going to be, I don’t know, certainly going to be a lot of players, probably over 1,000 players that will be exposed to waivers in the next eight calendar days or whatever it’ll be. I think the average claim is somewhere in the high 20s there…so that’s what the odds are. We’ve had years where we haven’t had any of our players claimed and we’ve had years where we’ve had multiple players claimed. I think at the end you just have to do what you think is best for your team.”

Belichick has given us terrific insight this week into how he and Nick Caserio strategize their roster decisions. When asked about the team’s releases in advance of the cutdown deadlines, Belichick mentioned the team wanted to have the ability to accommodate new players who may come available.

Enter the Barkevious.

He also got into projecting young players against established performance levels of veterans and weighing current contributions against future ones.

"That’s the $64,000 question," Belichick said on Tuesday. "That’s what it is. It’s been like that since the day I got into this league. From all of the personnel meetings I’ve ever been in it’s a [matter of] a player who’s more experienced [and] more ready to help the team now, versus a player that’s not as ready now but at some point you think the pendulum will swing in his favor. Will you do that? Can you do that? What are the consequences of making that move? What are the consequences of not making that move? How likely, as you said, is it that you could keep both players in some capacity?

"That’s what it’s about, trying to balance now with later. We’re going to field a team in November, we’re going to field a team next year, we’re going to field a team in 2018. Not that we’re getting too far ahead of ourselves, but we’re going to be in business in those years, so we have to sort of have an eye on those moving forward and a lot of the other factors that go into that. Those are all tough decisions. They’re all things that you really have to think about."

As is the risk of having a player scooped.

“It’s pretty hard to predict what’s going to happen when you put players on the wire because in all honesty, you don’t know what the other [31] teams are going to do and who they’re going to put on the wire,” Belichick explained. “Even though you put a player out there that you don’t want to lose, if another team happens to put a player out there that may be a team that needs that position and would be better with your player, your player gets claimed. Sometimes we waive players that we didn’t think would get claimed and they were, so that’s really hard to predict.

“In the end, you’ve got to make the decision that you feel like is best for your football team, and if you really want that player and you just can’t bear to live without them, then you shouldn’t be exposing them to the wire,” he concluded. “That’s the reality of it. We keep an eye on them, but I don’t think it’s an overriding factor. If you’re prepared to waive them, then you’ve got to be prepared to lose them. That’s just the way it is.”

Belichick considering using Jones as the No. 1 punt returner

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Belichick considering using Jones as the No. 1 punt returner

Back in May, when the Patriots drafted Cyrus Jones in the second round, Patriots director of player personel Nick Caserio made it very clear: Jones' ability to return punts is what made him their favorite player available at pick No. 60.

"I think the thing that tipped the scales in Cyrus’ favor a little bit," Caserio said at the time, "was his overall versatility -- punt return -- that’s a huge component of what we do and we thought he had the ability."

Jones broke out with a 60-yard return on Friday against the Panthers, flashing the kind of explosion in the kicking game that the Patriots anticipated when they made him their first selection this year. 

Though Jones has admitted he has had his share of issues securing the football during punt-return periods in practice, he has not dropped a punt in a preseason game. And in a conference call on Saturday, Bill Belichick acknowledged that Jones could be the team's primary punt returner in Week 1 even though the team employs two accomplished players who have performed that well in the past. 

"Yeah, I think that’s a consideration," Belichick said of using Jones as the No. 1 returner. "Obviously, Danny [Amendola] and Julian [Edelman] have a lot of experience returning punts for us as well as kickoffs in the past. We’ll see how it goes, but we have good depth at that position and that’s always a good thing to have.

"We have confidence in all of those guys back there. Last night we even had D.J. [Foster] who got a chance to handle the ball. We’ll see how it goes going forward, but I think we have good competition and good depth at that position."

Saving Edelman and Amendola from further wear-and-tear could help extend the careers of both 30-year-old receivers. Not long after Jones was drafted, we took a look at how many hits Edelman and/or Amendola could be saved on a weekly basis by using Jones in the kicking game.