Jason Varitek took on a variety of roles with the Red Sox after retiring as a player nine years ago and becoming a special assistant within baseball operations.
There was on-field coaching, amateur and professional scouting, attending the Winter Meetings as an adviser, and working in player development.
Varitek’s schedule was constructed in such a way that he had the freedom to leave the team during the season to spend time with his wife and four daughters.
But now, at 48, Varitek has taken on the role he finds most comfortable: being in uniform and working with major league players.
He also has a clear objective in mind.
“Become a manager, that’s the ultimate goal,” Varitek said.
The Red Sox officially added Varitek to the coaching staff earlier this month as the “game planning coordinator.” That’s a new position in the organization.
The title doesn’t really matter. What does is that the former team captain is making the commitment to be with the team for the length of the season and seeing where that takes him.
“Being there full-time allows you to be even more hands-on,” he said. “For me, it’s an opportunity to keep learning. There’s always a family dynamic working part-time as opposed to full-time. We’ll see how that shakes out however long [next] season is.
“It’s a change, but it’s a good one. I’ll get an opportunity to learn more about the game.”
Varitek has been a regular presence with the major league team for several years, usually working with the catchers. He jumped deeper into the job during spring training last season, then stayed with the team for what proved to be a 60-game regular season.
Varitek attended every game and settled into a routine that included drill work with catchers Christian Vazquez and Kevin Plawecki and helping them prepare for games. That’s what led to his formal appointment to the coaching staff after former Sox teammate Alex Cora returned as manager.
Much as he did as a player, Varitek will work with the pitchers on how best to attack opposing hitters using information from the analytics staff, other coaches, the advance scouts, and the knowledge gained during a 15-year playing career that included two World Series championships.
“I’ll work with the catchers and pitchers and be a liaison with the analytics people,” Varitek said. “Whatever comes my way, I’ll help out. It ends up being the same thing I have been doing, helping the players grow. There are no set parameters.
“Catching is only one aspect of the game. Every day you learn something different. I’m very happy being on the staff.”
Whether that leads to managing the Red Sox or another team is something that will play out.
“That’s not something I’ve been presented with,” Varitek said. “In the current environment I’m a completely faithful employee working on the staff under Alex.
“I’ll do what I can to help the players make the most of their ability. Things change over time and if it came up down the road with any team, I’d definitely have to consider it, no question.”
The Red Sox are one of eight teams managed by one of their former players. But in every case, the manager didn’t take a direct route to the bench. They managed, coached or worked in some other baseball job outside the organization before coming back.
“The game has changed,” Varitek said. “There’s more media coverage, television coverage, and responsibilities there. It doesn’t rest in one person’s hand. It’s much different than it was 15-20 years ago. I understand that.”
Varitek even joined the untamed world of Twitter in August, although he hasn’t posted yet. For a man who has long been most comfortable out of the spotlight, it’s a sign he understands the importance of communication skills.
“You want to be able to deliver the same message in different ways,” Varitek said. “How you communicate with somebody depends on the type of person they are.
“Being around every day, I’ll have that connection. I had a great experience last season and I want to add to that. There’s something to build on.”
Embracing analytics is another prerequisite for a prospective manager. Varitek already checks that box.
“People work hard to give you that information and spend a lot of time doing it. It would be silly not to utilize it,” he said. “I’ve always been somebody who wanted the information.
“I’ve been in the game a long time and what we get now is much different than when I played. But it’s your job to use it for your benefit.”
Varitek was a three-time All-Star, won a Gold Glove, and appeared in 63 playoff games during his career. But he doesn’t reflect on the past.
“My satisfaction now is their success, in what they do,” he said. “Working with players and seeing them grow, that’s satisfaction. You want to see them become the best they can be.
“Coaching is different as opposed to being a player. I’m now a teacher, a mentor, and their friend. It’s a good spot for me.”
FAREWELL TO ARMS
Red Sox whiffed on new pitchers
The Red Sox have dropped 10 pitchers off the 40-man roster since the end of the season, seven who were acquired since Chaim Bloom became chief baseball officer 13 months ago.
Only one, hard-throwing righthander Domingo Tapia, was claimed off waivers. He’s in the Mariners organization now.
Eight others were sent outright to Triple A with righthanded reliever Robert Stock awaiting his fate after being designated for assignment on Wednesday.
Those pitchers accounted for 35 percent of the games started last season and 25.2 percent of the innings pitched.
That those eight pitchers cleared waivers doesn’t speak well of the job the Sox did in putting the roster together.
Chris Sale’s injury and the unexpected loss of Eduardo Rodriguez complicated that, as did the temporary transaction freeze caused by the pandemic. There also weren’t any minor league games to scout.
But the Sox didn’t uncover any hidden gems outside of perhaps righthanded reliever Phillips Valdez. That represents a lost opportunity.
A few other observations about the Red Sox:
▪ There are approximately 15 Sox players listed on the rosters of various winter league teams. The list included infielder Jonathan Arauz, who will play in his native Panama in that nation’s four-team league.
Arauz appeared in 25 games last season, starting games at second base, third base, and shortstop after being selected in the Rule 5 Draft from the Astros organization.
The Sox are now permitted to option Arauz to the minor leagues next season. But the 22-year-old could well compete for a major league job. That he managed a .644 OPS in 80 plate appearances was a surprise considering he had not previously advanced beyond Double A.
Arauz also played well defensively. More than anything, he was comfortable with the speed of the game.
▪ Jason Varitek on catching prospect Connor Wong: “I saw him a lot, from spring training and spring training 2, and probably three weeks when he was on the taxi squad and around the team.
“He works extremely hard. He didn’t get in any [major league] games, but he showed his abilities and made a lot of progress. He can play other positions, but I think he’s a catcher. There’s a lot there we can work with.”
▪ It went largely unnoticed last season because he was on the injured list at the time, but Sale reached 10 years of major league service time.
According to the Players Association, only 6 percent of players achieve that milestone.
Steward proud of being a pioneer
It was a milestone for baseball when the Miami Marlins named Kim Ng as general manager earlier this month.
For Red Sox vice president and club counsel Elaine Steward, the first woman to work as an assistant GM, the only surprise was that it didn’t happen sooner.
“That position has evolved through the years,” she said. “When I first started you pretty much were expected to be a former player or manager, and that has changed. But Kim has such great experience in so many different areas, I’m surprised it took this long.
“She has an incredible résumé and is unquestionably qualified for that position,” Steward said.
Steward was assistant GM of the Red Sox from 1990-2002, working for Lou Gorman and Dan Duquette on contract negotiations, salary arbitration cases, and making sure the club was in compliance with MLB rules.
She was assistant general counsel at the time, having joined the team as an intern in the legal department.
At a time when general managers worked with much smaller staffs compared with what they have now, Steward played a vital role.
“On a day-to-day basis, there was a lot to do,” Steward said. “I had an undergraduate degree from St. John’s University in sports management, so it was always my desire to work in baseball.
“Having that position, where I could use my skills as a lawyer as well as work in baseball and be so intimately involved in the daily operations was a dream job.”
Steward, who was 26 when she started in baseball operations, said people were watching how she did. But she felt welcomed.
Steward has fond memories of helping bring Pedro Martinez to the Red Sox and seeing Mo Vaughn develop into an All-Star. She learned the value of taking a long-range view over the course of a tumultuous season.
“It was definitely a big step for me at the time, but I loved it,” Steward said.
In the years since, Jean Afterman (Yankees) and Raquel Ferreira (Red Sox) have risen to assistant GM positions. Other teams now employ women as coaches and in other baseball operations positions on and off the field.
Steward, as one of the game’s pioneers, takes pride in seeing the accomplishments of those women who have followed her into the game.
“Definitely,” she said. “I feel diversity in hiring is so important for organizations. To limit yourself to people that look a certain way or fit in a comfortable box is not the best way to hire.
“You’re limiting your candidate pool and there are lots of different qualified people out there who should be given considerations.”
Outfielder Joshua Baez of Dexter Southfield School via Dorchester and the Dominican Republic is emerging as one of the best high school hitters ahead of the 2021 draft. The 6-foot-4-inch righthanded hitter has power some scouts compare to a young Giancarlo Stanton. Baez also has unusual speed for his size and a 95-mile-per-hour fastball when he’s on the mound. Baez has committed to Vanderbilt … The deadline for teams to offer contracts to their arbitration-eligible players is Wednesday. Agents are expecting a larger-than-usual number of players to be tossed into the market as teams look to trim payroll. Braves infielder Johan Camargo, Cubs outfielder Albert Almora Jr., and Blue Jays infielder Travis Shaw are among the players who could be let go. Don’t be surprised if some bigger names are involved … With few, if any, notable starters on the trade market, the Rays are willing to deal former Cy Young Award winner Blake Snell. That plays into their strategy of maximizing the return on their players. Snell, who turns 28 on Friday, is signed through 2023 at what would be only a $10 million hit on the luxury tax. But he also has averaged 4⅔ innings over 34 starts the last two seasons. The Rays figure to want cost-controlled, high-end prospects in return, something the Red Sox do not have in abundance … It’s good to see former Lexington High and Boston College outfielder Chris Shaw getting a chance with the Orioles after being designated by the Giants. The 27-year-old was a productive hitter in the minors who never found a role in the majors with San Francisco, in part because of Mike Yastrzemski’s emergence. “He’s going to hit,” predicted a scout. “A classic change-of-scenery candidate.” The move somewhat coincided with the Orioles releasing Renato Nunez, their primary DH the last two seasons … With Ng now with the Marlins, the commissioner’s office still has two other GM candidates. Vice president of on-field operations Chris Young, who pitched 13 seasons in the majors, interviewed with the Mets, who are seeking a GM to work under Sandy Alderson. Peter Woodfork, who was appointed senior vice president of minor league operations earlier this month, has the background to become a GM. He was an executive with the Red Sox and Diamondbacks from 2003-10 before joining the league office … Indians manager Terry Francona reached back to his Boston roots in naming DeMarlo Hale as bench coach. Hale was on the Red Sox staff from 2006-11, the last two seasons as bench coach. Hale, 59, deserves a chance at managing. For now, he’s back on a major league staff after two years in player development with the Braves. “He’s really good. He has an unbelievable way of not just communicating, but connecting with everybody,” Francona said. Hale replaces Brad Mills, who opted out of last season and decided to continue spending time at home. He will have a role with the Indians that has yet to be defined … MLB’s long-awaited structural changes for the minor leagues are expected to be unveiled in the next 7-10 days. Under the new setup, MLB will set rules that dictate such seemingly minor matters as the duties and pay scale for clubhouse attendants … New Mets owner Steve Cohen owns the ball that Mookie Wilson knocked through the legs of Bill Buckner in Game 6 of the 1986 World Series. The ball is signed by Wilson but not Buckner. Cohen told the “We Gotta Believe” podcast that he purchased the ball from actor Charlie Sheen for $410,000 … Happy birthday to Mike Easler, who is 70. The Hit Man played for the Sox in 1984-85. He had 43 home runs and an .816 OPS before he was traded to the Yankees on the eve of the 1986 season for Don Baylor. Easler returned to the Sox as their hitting coach in 1993 and held the job for two seasons. He had a big role in the development of Vaughn. George Thomas is 83. The former outfielder and third baseman was with the Sox from 1966-71 and appeared in two games in the ’67 Series.