Jason Varitek

Jason Varitek joins Tim Wakefield in calling it a career

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Among active teammates, only the Yankees’ trio of Derek Jeter, Mariano Rivera and Jorge Posada had been together longer than Tim Wakefield and Jason Varitek. Now Varitek has joined Posada, the catcher he was so often compared to as part of the New York-Boston rivalry, and Wakefield in retirement.

Had Varitek played anywhere other than Boston or New York, he would have spent his career as an underrated player, a first-rate catcher without the eye-popping numbers that would have warranted a lot of attention. He never hit .300 or drove in 100 runs. He didn’t even become a regular until age 27.

In Boston, though, Varitek was “The Captain,” complete with the “C” on his chest. The guy who got into the fight with Alex Rodriguez. A key component on two World Series championship teams.

That reputation shouldn’t get Varitek anywhere near the Hall of Fame, but it’s worth remembering just how good he was at his peak. From 2003-05, he hit .283/.369/.494 with 65 homers and 228 RBIs. Among catchers, only Javy Lopez and Posada (with the same .863 OPS) were better offensively during that span, and Varitek had the best glove of that trio.

Alas, Varitek fell off pretty quickly from there, though it’s worth noting that he played quite a bit better as a backup the last two seasons than he did as a regular in 2008-09. Even at 40, he still projected as one of the game’s better offensive backups. Unfortunately, his arm has deteriorated to the point at which he just can’t stop anyone on the basepaths. That’s why there was no demand for his services over the winter.

Varitek finishes his career at .256/.341/.435 with 193 homers and 757 RBI. Among guys who played at least 80 percent of their games at catcher, Varitek ranks 16th in homers, 21st in RBI and 23rd in OPS (Posada, in comparison, ranks eighth, 10th and seventh in those categories).

Varitek also hit .237/.292/.452 with 11 homers and 33 RB in 63 postseason games. Looking at those who played exclusviely for the Red Sox, only Hall of Famers Carl Yastrzemski, Ted Williams and Jim Rice had longer careers.

Royals pay tribute to late Yordano Ventura during spring training opener

MINNEAPOLIS, MN - AUGUST 12: Yordano Ventura #30 of the Kansas City Royals delivers a pitch against the Minnesota Twins during the first inning of the game on August 12, 2016 at Target Field in Minneapolis, Minnesota. (Photo by Hannah Foslien/Getty Images)
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The Royals honored former pitcher Yordano Ventura prior to their first Cactus League game against the Rangers on Saturday. Ventura was killed in a car accident in his native Dominican Republic in late January.

Rangers’ third baseman Adrian Beltre and center fielder Carlos Gomez paid their respects to the pitcher with a floral arrangement that was laid on the mound. Both teams stood along the foul lines during a pregame video tribute that highlighted Ventura’s tenure with Kansas City. Following the game, Gomez spoke to the media about his relationship with Ventura, describing their frequent conversations during the season and commending the pitcher for having “the same passion that I had early in my career” (via WFAA.com’s Levi Weaver).

A plaque dedicated to the 25-year-old was also presented to club manager Ned Yost as a more permanent commemoration of Ventura’s contributions to the sport. Blair Kerkhoff of the Kansas City Star reports that the plaque will be mounted in the club’s spring training facilities alongside tributes to members of the Royals’ 2014 and 2015 playoff teams.

The full text of the plaque is below, via MLB.com’s Jeffrey Flanagan:

A brother and a teammate, Yordano Ventura, passed away on the morning of January 22 in his native Dominican Republic, at the age of 25. He signed with the Royals as a 17-year-old, eventually making the big league team in 2013 as a 22-year-old. On most days, he could be found laughing and joking with his baseball family in the clubhouse. However, on days when he pitched, that smile was replaced by a quiet confidence and an intense fire, which he brought to the mound for every start. He had many highlights in his abbreviated career, not the least of which was throwing eight shutout innings in Game #6 of the 2014 World Series to force a Game #7 vs. San Francisco.

Gerrit Cole named Pirates’ Opening Day starter

BRADENTON, FL - FEBRUARY 19: Gerrit Cole #45 of the Pittsburgh Pirates poses for a photograph during MLB spring training photo day on February 19, 2017 at Pirate City in Bradenton, Florida. (Photo by Brian Blanco/Getty Images)
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Right-hander Gerrit Cole is set to take the mound for the Pirates on Opening Day, according to a team announcement on Saturday. It’s a spot that was most recently occupied by former Pirate Francisco Liriano, who made three consecutive Opening Day starts for the club before getting dealt to the Blue Jays last August.

The 26-year-old produced career-worst numbers during his fourth run with the Pirates in 2016, due in large part to bouts of inflammation in his right elbow. He finished the year with a 3.88 ERA, 2.8 BB/9 and 7.6 SO/9 over 116 innings before getting shut down in September to avoid further injury to his elbow. When healthy, however, Cole has been lights-out for the Pirates. Prior to his injury-laden campaign last year, he touted a career 3.07 ERA, 2.2 BB/9, 8.5 SO/9 and cumulative 10.2 fWAR from 2013 through 2015.

Cole will go toe-to-toe with the Red Sox during Boston’s home opener on Monday, April 3. Right-hander Jameson Taillon is scheduled to make the second start of the year, while fellow righty Ivan Nova will cover the Pirates’ home opener against the Braves on April 7. The Pirates’ third and fifth starters have yet to be announced.