BOSTON — Kelly Shoppach and the Boston Red Sox have agreed to a $1.35 million, one-year contract that brings the free-agent catcher back to his original team.
The move Tuesday likely ends Jason Varitek’s 15-year tenure behind the plate in Boston.
The 31-year-old Shoppach batted .176 with 11 homers and 22 RBIs in 87 games last season, his second with Tampa Bay. But he showed a strong arm on defense, throwing out 36.6 percent of runners trying to steal.
The Red Sox drafted Shoppach in the second round in 2001 and traded him to Cleveland in January 2006. He hit 21 homers for the Indians in 2008 and is a .224 career hitter.
Shoppach joins Jarrod Saltalamacchia behind the plate in Boston. Saltalamacchia teamed last season with the 39-year-old Varitek, now a free agent. Varitek batted.221 in 68 games and threw out 14 percent of attempted base stealers.
In other MLB moves, former All-Star pitchers Joe Saunders and Hong-Chih Kuo, and Baltimore outfielder Luke Scott became free agents after their teams declined to offer 2012 contracts.
Atlanta reliever Peter Moylan and St. Louis infielder Ryan Theriot also were among the 30 players set free when their teams failed to offer deals before the midnight EST deadline.
Skip Schumaker was let go in a technicality, then agreed to a $3 million, two-year contract with the Cardinals.
An All-Star for the Los Angeles Angels in 2008, Saunders was 12-13 with a 3.69 ERA last season for the Arizona Diamondbacks.
Kuo had 12 saves for the Dodgers in 2010 and made the All-Star team, then slumped to a 1-2 record with a 9.00 ERA this year. He had arthroscopic surgery on his left elbow Friday to remove a loose body and scar tissue.
The 33-year-old Scott was acquired by Baltimore in the December 2007 trade that sent Miguel Tejada to the Houston Astros. Scott was voted the Orioles’ most valuable player in 2010, but he was hindered by a torn right labrum this year and batted only .220 with nine home runs and 22 RBIs.
Also let go were Kansas City left-hander Aaron Laffey, Chicago Cubs catcher Koyie Hill, Washington left-hander Doug Slaten, Minnesota lefty Jose Mijares, San Diego outfielder Jeremy Hermida, Colorado outfielder Ryan Spilborghs, Orioles pitchers Willie Eyre and Jo-Jo Reyes, Boston left-hander Rich Hill and Tampa Bay right-hander Andy Sonnanstine.
In the hours before the deadline, Los Angeles Dodgers outfielder Tony Gwynn Jr. agreed to a $2 million, two-year contract.
Toronto agreed to one-year deals with catcher Jeff Mathis ($1.5 million), right-hander Jesse Litsch ($975,000) and right-hander Dustin McGowan ($600,000). Oakland gave one-year contracts to infielders Daric Barton ($1.1 million) and Adam Rosales ($600,000), and catcher Landon Powell ($620,000).
Also getting one-year deals were Colorado pitcher Kevin Slowey ($2.75 million), San Diego outfielder Chris Denorfia ($1,165,000), Pittsburgh pitcher Jason Grilli ($1.1 million), Boston reliever Matt Albers ($1,075,000), San Francisco infielder Mike Fontenot ($1.05 million), Houston catcher Humberto Quintero ($1 million), Los Angeles Angels pitcher Jerome Williams ($920,000), Milwaukee catcher George Kottaras ($700,000) and Miami infielder Donnie Murphy ($560,000).
Declining to offer contracts is a way clubs can avoid going to salary arbitration with players who otherwise would be eligible. Sometimes, it’s a way to get around the maximum cut rule.
Some of those cut loose find success with new teams. Russell Martin was let go by the Los Angeles Dodgers at the deadline last year and wound up hitting 18 home runs as the New York Yankees’ primary catcher. He had a $4 million base salary and earned the maximum available in bonuses: $1,375,000.