Boston offered minor-league contracts and spring training invitations to both Tim Wakefield and Jason Varitek. Wakefield opted against battling for a roster spot at age 45, announcing his retirement today, but the 40-year-old Varitek is apparently still trying to make up his mind.
Varitek’s agent, Scott Boras, told Scott Lauber of the Boston Herald that the catcher has “not made any decisions yet” about his plans for 2012.
By signing Kelly Shoppach to back up Jarrod Saltamacchia the Red Sox are seemingly set at catcher and Varitek wasn’t linked to many other teams during the offseason. It’s possible he could draw interest from teams if a starting catcher goes down with a spring training injury, but Ivan Rodriguez and Jason Kendall are also available if veteran-ness is the only qualification needed.
Varitek hit .221 with a .300 on-base percentage and .423 slugging percentage in 250 plate appearances last season, which is actually above-average production for a catcher, but it’s tough to live with his defense at this point. He threw out a measly 14 percent of steal attempts last season.
On Monday, Baseball America reported that MLB is prepared to expand to Portland and Montreal. We talked about that at length yesterday. One of the most common responses to that piece has been “Portland? Really?”
There’s good reason for that response. Baseball-to-Portland has been talked about for years, but there has never been any real traction. Past initiatives have failed, significant public funding for a stadium seems to be a political impossibility and, heck, Portland wasn’t even interested in keeping its Triple-A team, turning its stadium into a much more successful soccer venue and not missing the Beavers all that much.
It would seem, however, that the reports are not mere speculation and there is a genuine baseball-to-Portland initiative afoot once again. From the Oregonian:
On Tuesday, former Trail Blazers broadcaster Mike Barrett confirmed to The Oregonian/OregonLive that he is part of the Portland group.
“I am officially involved with a campaign to bring Major League Baseball and a stadium development to Portland,” Barrett said. “There is also a formally organized, sophisticated and seasoned management group running this initiative. We will keep you fully apprised of any/all developments as this project progresses.”
One guy — a broadcaster no less — saying he’s part of a group is not exactly a major needle-mover, of course. But it does contrast with past Portland initiatives that have been well-publicized grassroots affairs. While those may have been more broad-based and while their public nature may have provided some refreshing transparency, the simple fact of professional sports ownership in the 21st century is that well-monied groups who play things close to the vest are more likely to make waves. We’re in an age when technocratic hedge fund-type guys make things happen in this arena, not in an age when flamboyant public personalities do.
None of which is to say that baseball in Portland is a lock or that expansion anywhere is a short term proposition. It’s just to note that, yeah, there is a bit more going on, it seems, than just pointing at a map and saying “yeah, a team would make sense here.”