Red Sox

Forget about Jason Varitek the umpire — let's talk his future as Red Sox manager

Forget about Jason Varitek the umpire — let's talk his future as Red Sox manager

Jason Varitek the umpire drew rave reviews for his performance behind the plate during Thursday's intrasquad scrimmage, his exuberant strikeout calls conjuring images of John Travolta in Saturday Night Fever.

"I had to do a double-take," manager Ron Roenicke admitted.

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"I liked having him behind the plate," said starter Nathan Eovaldi. "I felt like he was making some really good calls for me."

Varitek looked the part of a man in blue, donning full umpire regalia and responsibly wearing a facemask under his umpiring mask in a nod to safety. He volunteered for the role, and has no designs on pursuing the job any further; he won't be back behind the plate for Friday's scrimmage.

And that's fine, because while Varitek's foray into umpiring was amusing, what we should really be talking about is his potential as a manager.

For all the talk of Roenicke simply minding the store for whatever becomes of 2020 before the Red Sox welcome back Alex Cora, we shouldn't discount the possibility of Varitek sliding into the dugout.

There's consensus throughout the organization that Varitek is a future manager, if he wants it. He briefly looked like a darkhorse candidate for Roenicke's job this winter, except the timing wasn't right, especially with a young family at home and the demands of the job surpassing even those of his old responsibilities behind the plate.

What's clear is that Varitek checks virtually every box the organization could want.

He understands and embraces the Boston market. His leadership qualities are well-known and earned him the title of captain, which hasn't been filled since he retired in 2011. Perhaps most unexpectedly, he has embraced the analytics revolution, demonstrating a comfort level in his role as a special assistant not just with advanced information, but how to apply it.

It shouldn't be a surprise, though.

No one studied more in support of his pitchers than Varitek, who spent 15 years in Boston as a backstop, making three All-Star teams, winning two World Series, and earning a Gold Glove and Silver Slugger. The postgame image of Varitek at his locker was indelible, with every joint encased in ice, his thighs bulging like tunnel-boring drills and his shoulders as broad as a granite slab.

But if you looked closely, what stood out wasn't the physical toll of calling a game, but the mental one. When Varitek rotated his chair to face the media, he slumped and exhaled as if he had just finished the LSAT. He believed it was his responsibility to know every facet of every scouting report, so that when he flashed the signs, his pitcher would throw with confidence and conviction.

As he pored over binders before each game, he gave the appearance of a brute-force learner, the kid who scores A's and B's by grinding his pencil to dust.

But translating that relatively rudimentary data in the early 2000s positioned him to thrive today. The most advanced scouting report in the big leagues is of little use if it can't be married to performance, and that's how Varitek made his name. It's why former pitching coach Dana LeVangie wanted Varitek to be more involved on a daily basis in 2018, and it's why he has so many fans in the organization now.

The question is whether he wants it. He just turned 48 and he's raising a grade schooler. The disruption to his home life would be significant, and there's also the issue of taking the helm while the Red Sox attempt to rebuild during a pandemic. The timing isn't great.

That said, he's very much a part of the future, even if it ends up being a little down the road. So while everyone got a kick out of watching him call strike three with a Brad Marchand fist pump on Thursday, don't be surprised if one day he finds a home on the bench.

 

Mookie Betts is dominating with Dodgers, but trading him remains the right call

Mookie Betts is dominating with Dodgers, but trading him remains the right call

There are many reasons to rip the Red Sox, whom I described as a maggoty dumpster fire as recently as Friday.

Trading Mookie Betts isn't one of them.

The former and probably future MVP made history with the Dodgers on Thursday night, delivering the sixth three-homer game of his career and his first outside of Baltimore. (That's a joke, but man, did he murder the Orioles).

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With the Red Sox slip-sliding their way to oblivion, the juxtaposition of Betts' monster night with their own demoralizing 17-8 loss to the Tampa Bay Rays was hard to miss, but easy to mischaracterize.

In the short term, oh my God, what a horrific deal. Betts is going to win a World Series and the Red Sox are going down the toilet like a leg-twitching beetle. But in the long-term, the franchise will be better served by moving on from its homegrown star, because Betts' window of dominance did not remotely fit Boston's window of contention. 

Perhaps it's just my small-c fiscal conservatism talking, but I am philosophically opposed to 12-year contracts, no matter how talented the player. You're buying more decline years than prime ones, especially in an era when fewer and fewer players maintain production into their 30s, let alone players of Betts' profile.

Five-tool star Grady Sizemore saw his ascension halted at 25. Former NL MVP Andrew McCutchen delivered his last monster season at 28 and his last really good one at 30. Ask the Yankees how they feel about paying Jacoby Ellsbury.

Betts is a generational talent, but he's only 5-foot-9. As we noted over the winter, players that size simply aren't built to last, and if that sounds like some cold-blooded actuary bleep, so be it.

Since 1947, only seven players 5-foot-9 or shorter have compiled a career WAR of 50 or higher (compared to 125 for those 5-foot-10 or taller). Two were catchers (Yogi Berra, Pudge Rodriguez), one was a defensive whiz who couldn't hit a lick (Luis Aparicio), and you tell me what to make of the other four.

Hall of Famer Joe Morgan remained an elite player until age 32, when he won his second MVP Award. He hit .254 over the final eight years of his career. Fellow Hall of Famer Tim Raines made his final All-Star team at 27 and topped 3.5 WAR just twice after age 30. We are already intimately familiar with the career trajectory of Dustin Pedroia.

That leaves Hall of Famer Kirby Puckett, a 5-foot-8 bowling ball who remained a force through his age-35 season before a tragic eye injury ended his career.

Betts is a unique athlete, so maybe he'll break that mold, but I don't blame the Red Sox for deciding not to take the risk. Were they stacked with the kind of talent that could contend right now, and blessed with a deep farm system to augment some of their higher salaries, then I would've made a case for retaining Betts anyway to capitalize on the 27-year-old's prime.

But let's be realistic about this window. There's a reason John Henry and Co. replaced the win-now Dave Dombrowski with the win-someday Chaim Bloom. They saw the team for what it was, married to bad contracts like the oft-injured Nathan Eovaldi and Chris Sale.

They were lucky to get out from under half of David Price's remaining bloat, but now they face the prospect of retooling pretty much every position except catcher (Christian Vazquez), third base (Rafael Devers), shortstop (Xander Bogaerts) and right field (Alex Verdugo). Do I even need to ask what difference Betts would've made on this train wreck?

Assuming Sale returns from Tommy John and Eduardo Rodriguez beats myocarditis, the Red Sox still are woefully inadequate in the pitching department, and after years of being strip-mined by Dombrowski, the once-prized farm system is beginning a long road back to viability.

Trading Betts makes clear their path forward. It provides the financial flexibility to attack multiple deficiencies, because no team boasts a limitless budget, not even Boston. Paying Betts $35 million annually to begin declining just as the Red Sox climbing back into contention would be bad business.

In the meantime, hammer away. Crushing the Red Sox is its own cathartic sport (I've got my varsity letter), and there will undoubtedly be more nights when the Red Sox fall on their face while Betts soars 3,000 miles away.

That doesn't change the calculus that made him a bad long-term investment for Boston, which is why I firmly believe we will eventually look back at his departure as the right call.

Ex-Red Sox star Mookie Betts has three-home run game for Dodgers

Ex-Red Sox star Mookie Betts has three-home run game for Dodgers

On the same night that the Boston Red Sox fell 17-8 to the Tampa Bay Rays and saw their losing streak extended to four games, their ex-star outfielder Mookie Betts made history with his new team.

Betts was simply on another level for the Los Angeles Dodgers on Thursday, crushing not one...

Not two...

But three home runs vs. the San Diego Padres to tie the MLB record for the most three-home run games ever (six).


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The 2018 American League MVP is still doing MVP things, much to the chagrin of Red Sox fans. It certainly doesn't help matters that it's been a disastrous 2020 campaign for Boston, which fell to 6-13 on the season after Thursday's loss.

For a look back at Betts' five 3-home run games with the Red Sox, you can take a trip down memory lane here.