Varitek to return to Red Sox in 2010

Posted Nov. 11, 2009, at 9:48 p.m.
Boston Red Sox catcher Jason Varitek looks to the pitcher during the team's first official spring training workout, Friday, Feb. 18, 2005, in Ft. Myers, Fla.  Varitek signed a four-year contract with the Red Sox during the off season. (AP Photo/Robert F. Bukaty)
Boston Red Sox catcher Jason Varitek looks to the pitcher during the team's first official spring training workout, Friday, Feb. 18, 2005, in Ft. Myers, Fla. Varitek signed a four-year contract with the Red Sox during the off season. (AP Photo/Robert F. Bukaty)

BOSTON — Catcher Jason Varitek exercised his $3 million option to stay with the Boston Red Sox on Wednesday, choosing to remain with the team as a backup to Victor Martinez rather than become a free agent.

Boston declined to exercise its $5 million club option on Monday, and Varitek then had two days to decide whether to exercise his player option at the lower price.

The 37-year-old Varitek was Boston’s starting catcher for nine of 10 seasons through 2008, except in 2001 when he was limited to 51 games because of injury. He was the regular last season until Boston obtained Martinez from the Cleveland Indians in a trade on July 31.

Boston exercised a $7.7 million club option for Martinez on Monday.

Since coming to Boston from Seattle with pitcher Derek Lowe for reliever Heathcliff Slocumb in July 1997, Varitek hit .259 with 175 homers and 705 RBIs. But he slumped the past two seasons, hitting .220 in 2008 and then a career-low. 209 this year. He also threw out just 10 of 118 runners attempting to steal this year, according to STATS LLC.

Frequently praised by pitchers for his game-handling ability, Varitek caught 108 games last year, 106 of them starts. Most were before Martinez arrived at the trade deadline. Varitek holds the Red Sox record with 1,381 games as a catcher.

Griffey stays with Mariners

SEATTLE — Junior’s back in Seattle, one more time.

Ken Griffey Jr. and the Mariners agreed Wednesday to another one-year contract that will keep the popular player in town for what could be his final season.

Griffey, who turns 40 on Nov. 21, was guaranteed $2 million when he signed to return to Seattle for the 2009 season and had the chance to earn more in bonuses.

“The framework of this year’s contract is similar to last year’s,” Griffey’s agent, Brian Goldberg, said by telephone.

It is believed Griffey will get a slightly higher base salary, with fewer incentives based upon plate appearances and Mariners home attendance. He earned $1.15 million of a possible $3 million in bonuses from this year’s contract.

He is likely to again be a part-time designated hitter in his 22nd major league season since he broke in as a grinning Mariners teenager.

“The fact that Junior is ending up his career in Seattle is very special,” Goldberg said. “He is willing to perform any role.”

Griffey figures to again be the leader of a rising team that last season became the 13th club since 1901 to finish with a winning record the year after losing 100 games.

“He’s open to anything,” Mariners general manager Jack Zduriencik said in a telephone interview from baseball’s GM meetings in Chicago. “What he said was, ‘I’d like to be a part of this. Hey, I’m the part of a 25-man club. Let the pieces fall where they may … let the manager make the decisions.’ It’s a real bonus to have him back.”

A 10-time All-Star and the 1997 AL MVP for the Mariners, Griffey hit .214 last season with 19 homers as a part-time DH. He was limited by a swollen left knee that required a second operation in as many offseasons last month.

Griffey is No. 5 on the career home run list with 630. He said in October he would like to return if the Mariners wanted him, then never filed for free agency. He again considered staying home in Orlando, Fla., to be with his wife and three, school-aged children.

After spending his first 11 seasons with Seattle and becoming a star, he played nine more with Cincinnati and the Chicago White Sox. Griffey returned to the Mariners this year and almost single-handedly transformed what had been a fractured, bickering clubhouse with his leadership, energy and constant pranks.

“He went beyond anything that I would have expected,” Zduriencik said.

Griffey turned formerly reclusive star Ichiro Suzuki into a smiling, joking teammate. He had neck ties made for road trips bearing manager Don Wakamatsu’s likeness. He also had the Mariners wearing ties bearing his own likeness and the words “World’s Greatest Teammate” for one midseason flight out of Seattle.

“His influence, the presence he has — there are players on this ball club who are very excited to know they are going to be teammates again with Ken Griffey Jr.,” Zduriencik said.

The Mariners even carried Griffey off the field on their shoulders immediately following October’s season finale. He was in tears, saying it was unlike any other day in his life.

“It’s a whole lot of love, a lot of friendship. I don’t know to describe it,” Griffey said Oct. 4. “It’s been unbelievable. They helped me more than I helped them.”

“I’d like to thank the Mariners organization for inviting me back to play in 2010,” Griffey said in a statement. “While 2009 was an awesome experience for me, my ultimate goal is for the Mariners to get to and win the World Series. To that end, I look forward to contributing in any role that Don sees fit on the field, and any manner I possibly can off the field.”

Seattle is convinced he is healthy enough to contribute again next year — though he won’t undergo a physical to formally close his new deal for a while, to give time for the knee to recover from surgery.

“We feel real good about information we’ve gotten from Dr. (Timothy) Kremcheck,” Zdurencik of the Cincinnati-based surgeon who removed a bone spur in Griffey’s knee on Oct. 26.

“We believe that Ken’s presence with the Seattle Mariners organization was such a positive asset last season with his leadership on and off the field,” Zduriencik said. “His passion for baseball, life and the Seattle Mariners goes unsaid.”

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