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Jason Varitek’s era ending with Shoppach on board?

With new catcher in fold, veteran’s return unlikely

Jason Varitek

Bill Kostroun/AP

Jason Varitek has been with the Red Sox since 1997.

General manager Ben Cherington has been hinting for weeks that the Red Sox were lukewarm to the idea of bringing back captain Jason Varitek for another season.

The door closed a little tighter yesterday when the Sox signed veteran catcher Kelly Shoppach to a one-year contract worth $1.35 million.

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“I’m excited to be going back to Boston,’’ Shoppach posted on his Twitter account.

Shoppach, 31, was drafted by the Red Sox in 2001 and made his major league debut with the team in 2005. Shoppach was traded to Cleveland in 2006, part of the deal that returned Coco Crisp.

Shoppach spent four seasons with the Indians before being traded to Tampa Bay. He became a free agent after this season.

Shoppach, a career .224 hitter, has regressed at the plate in recent seasons. He hit .176 last season and over the last three seasons is hitting .197 with a .672 OPS.

Varitek hit .221 last season with a .723 OPS. The 39-year-old hit .176 with a .649 OPS after the All-Star break, however. Now, with Shoppach signed to a guaranteed contract, there is little chance that Varitek returns.

“At a loss for words,’’ wrote Varitek’s new wife, Catherine, on Twitter.

Varitek said after the season he wanted to return to the Red Sox for a 16th year. Other teams might have interest in Varitek as a backup.

Shoppach threw out 18 of 44 base stealers last season, a sterling 41 percent. Opponents were 73 of 85 against Varitek.

Tony Gutierrez/AP/File

Shoppach, 31, was drafted by the Red Sox in 2001 and made his major league debut with the team in 2005.

Shoppach is a career .274/.373/.536 hitter against lefthanders in his career, which would make him a good backup to Jarrod Saltalamacchia, who is better hitter against righthanders.

Cherington said last month the team planned to give rookie catcher Ryan Lavarnway an opportunity to make the team out of spring training but could add an experienced catcher to compete with him for that spot.

Lavarnway has only 61 games and 264 at-bats in Triple A. The addition of Shoppach gives the Red Sox the option of having Lavarnway start next season in the minors.

Josh Beckett will not likely welcome this roster shift. Varitek has been his personal catcher for several seasons and caught all but two of his 30 starts in 2011. But the Red Sox seem less inclined to cater to the players following a historic September collapse and two consecutive third-place finishes.

The departure of Varitek would leave the Red Sox without a captain. New manager Bobby Valentine said last week that his inclination would be to go without a captain, which is the case with most teams.

Valentine said his hope would be that leadership would come from all corners of the clubhouse.

Peter Abraham can be reached at pabraham@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @PeteAbe.
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