11 years after being drafted, Kelly Shoppach belatedly replaces Jason Varitek

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When the Red Sox made Kelly Shoppach their first pick in the 2001 draft, the thinking was that he might someday take over for Jason Varitek behind the plate in Boston. Of course, then GM Dan Duquette probably didn’t see it happening 11 years and two Red Sox World Series championships later. Nor did he know that it’d be his last draft at the helm of the team.

Shoppach, a polished catcher out of Baylor, was selected 48th overall in 2001 after Boston lost its first-round pick for signing Manny Ramirez. He proved solid right away, hitting .271/.369/.432 in high-A ball in his pro debut in 2002.

Varitek turned into an institution in Boston, but at the time, he was a 29-year-old with only one really good season under his belt. He hit .269/.330/.482 with 20 homers and 76 RBI for Boston in 1999, but he fell off to .248/.342/.388 with just 10 homers in 2000. His 2001 season was ruined by a broken elbow suffered just two days after the Shoppach pick was made. Varitek returned in 2002 and had another modest season (.266/.332/.392, 10 HR) before really coming into his own and making his first All-Star team in 2003.

Of course, the story from there took a dramatic turn. While there was much speculation in the 2004 postseason that Varitek and Pedro Martinez might be playing their final games for the Red Sox, Varitek got a four-year, $40 million to stick around. It was a choice made easier by Shoppach taking a step backwards in his first year in Triple-A. Shoppach rebounded in 2005, hitting .253/.352/.507 with 26 homers for Pawtucket. He was then shipped out as part of the much ballyhooed Andy Marte-for-Coco Crisp swap with Cleveland, a move that proved a letdown on several levels.

Now Shoppach is back in Boston, pushing the soon-to-be 40-year-old Varitek out the door. It should be an upgrade, though Varitek was just fine offensively in his two season as a backup for the Red Sox. Boston, however, needed a catcher capable of throwing out a basestealer every once in a while, and Shoppach is a big plus there.

Of course, Varitek will be missed. The Red Sox eased their restrictions to retire the number of a non-Hall of Famer three years ago, when they put Johnny Pesky’s No. 6 up on the wall. They may want to consider doing the same to Varitek’s No. 33 someday, because while Varitek won’t sniff Cooperstown, he had a terrific ride.

Buyers and Sellers at the Trade Deadline: National League Central

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Manny Machado’s trade completed, the rest of baseball can now turn its attention to the non-blue chip players on the market.

Yesterday, in our look-ahead to the second half, we mentioned some of the top players likely to be made available. Today we look at each team to see who is buying, who is selling, what they’re seeking and what they have to offer. Note: almost every contender, always, needs relief help.

As a reminder, the non-waiver Trade Deadline is July 31. Players traded after that date but before August 31 need to pass through waivers unclaimed before they can be traded. All players traded before August 31 are eligible to be on their new team’s playoff roster should they make the postseason.

Next up, the National League Central:

Cubs
Status: Buyers
Wanted: They could use a lot of pitching. They could get in-house help in this regard with Yu Darvish coming back, but they have no idea what they’ll get from him at this point. You have to assume they’ll be in the conversation for any starter out there.

Brewers
Status: Buyers. They were another of the finalists on Manny Machado.
Wanted: One of the few teams who does not need bullpen help, the Brewers could really use a bat, either at short or in the outfield.

Cardinals
Staus: I have no idea
Huh?  I mean, they just fired their manager which suggests the season is kind of a loss, but they’re only four games out in the Wild Card race which suggests that, no it is not. On one, vague level they’re like the Rays, who will likely seek good deals regardless of whether they are short term or long term. On another level they’re the Cardinals, and the Cardinals are almost always in win-now mode. If a pitcher can be had, figure they’ll try to grab one.

Pirates
Status: Sellers. They finished hot in the first half and are only 5.5. back in the Wild Card, but this front office does not strike me as one that’s gonna go for broke here.
For Sale: Assuming they fall out of contention, they’ll likely accept offers for any number of veterans, including Jordy MercerDavid FreeseCorey Dickerson and Ivan Nova.

Reds
Status: Sellers, because that awful start kind of buried them, though can we tip our cap to them for the run they’ve been on of late? *tip*
For Sale: They’ve done a pretty good job of making Matt Harvey look respectable, so flipping him seems to make sense. Any number of relievers would make sense. Billy Hamilton seems like a good change-of-scenery candidate who could be a lethal weapon for a playoff contender if judiciously deployed.