By Sean McAdam
Not long ago, the Red Sox catching situation looked uncertain. Now, even before the start of the annual winter meetings, it appears solved.
The Red Sox Thursday agreed with veteran Jason Varitek on a one-year contract worth 2 million with 300,000 in additional incentives. The deal will bring Varitek back for a 13th season with the club, making him the second-longest tenured player with the team after pitcher Tim Wakefield.
Varitek, as he did in 2010, will serve primarily as the team's backup catcher. After pairing with Victor Martinez last year, Varitek will work as the reserve behind Jarrod Saltalamacchia, whom the Sox envision as the No. 1 receiver in 2011.
Varitek hit .232 with 7 homers and 16 RBI in 39 games last year, but his OPS of .766 was his highest figure since 2007.
He'll be asked to mentor Saltalamacchia, who, at 25, has played almost 1,300 fewer games than Varitek, the team's all-time leader in games played as a catcher. Varitek can help Saltalamacchia out when it comes to game-planning and preparation and share his knowledge of the league and its hitters.
Both Saltalamacchia and Varitek are switch-hitters, but Saltalamacchia, for now at least, is more proficient from the left side and Varitek more potent from the right side. That split will allow manager Terry Francona to spot Varitek mostly against opposing lefthanded starters.
Finally, Varitek will be asked to help get both John Lackey and Josh Beckett back on track. Beckett made no secret of his preference to throw to Varitek over Martinez last year, while Lackey was inconsistent from start to finish.
The Sox elected not to tender a contract to Hideki Okajima Thursday, the deadline for offering contracts to players eligible for salary arbitration.
The move makes Okajima a free agent immediately, but does not preclude him from re-signing with the Red Sox.
Also non-tendered: Pitchers Andrew Miller and Taylor Buchholz, both of whom were acquired since the end of the season. The Sox will most likely attempt to sign both for less money than they would have commanded had they been tendered contracts.
Okajima, who joined the Red Sox prior to the 2007 season, made 2.75 million last season. Had the Sox offered him a contract before Thursday midnight, it would have had to have been at least 80 percent of the 2.75 million he earned in 2010, or, 2.2 million.
For a reliever who has been less and less effective over his three seasons with the Sox, that made little financial sense.
If Okajima returns to the Sox, it will be as a lefty specialist, a role that current pays about half of that projected 2.2 million figure.
As the bullpen is currently constituted, the Sox have only one left-hander: Felix Doubront, who pitched in relief for the Sox in the second half of 2010 before missing the final month with a neckshoulder injury. Miller, however, is also left-handed.