FORT MYERS, Fla. Kelly Shoppach's preparation for his first season as a catcher with the Boston Red Sox includes more than just getting to know the pitching staff. He practically has to learn a different language. He has to learn how to speak Varitek, like the pitchers do.
For 15 years, Jason Varitek was the voice in the Boston pitching staff's ear, and the target behind the plate, giving the Red Sox the hard-nosed, gritty identity they used to win two World Series titles.
Now, it appears that era has come to an end.
While other stars arrived early, Varitek has not shown up for the first two days of workouts for Red Sox pitchers and catchers. General manager Ben Cherington offered the soon-to-be 40-year-old captain a minor-league deal months ago, but still, Varitek is nowhere to be found.
For the first time since 1996, the year before he was acquired from Seattle in a trade, Varitek wasn't in the bullpen with the gear on. He wasn't there to check on how committed the pitchers were through the winter. He wasn't there to help them start ramping up for another season with high expectations.
Even though Varitek has played second fiddle to Victor Martinez and Jarrod Saltalamacchia over the past few seasons, he has still held tremendous influence in the clubhouse.
Varitek has three options. He can take the minor-league deal with the Red Sox, the only team he's ever played for in the big leagues, try to convince another team to give an aging catcher with declining skills a chance as a backup, or retire, like his friend and long-time Boston leader Tim Wakefield did last week.
He is only the third Red Sox captain since 1923, joining Hall of Famers Carl Yastrzemski and Jim Rice.
Around the leagues
Cleveland: The pitcher formerly known as Fausto Carmona said he hopes to obtain a judicial pardon and return to the Indians.
Roberto Hernandez was placed on baseball's restricted list after he was arrested in the Dominican Republic on false identity charges last month.
Kansas City: The Royals agreed to terms with relievers Louis Coleman and Greg Holland for this season, leaving five unsigned players on the 40-man roster.
L.A. Dodgers: Reliever Ronald Belisario said a positive test for cocaine was the reason he remained in Venezuela and didn't play in the majors last season. He will serve a 25-game suspension.
A bankruptcy judge approved the disclosure statement outlining the Dodgers' proposed bankruptcy reorganization plan.
Minnesota: Center fielder Denard Span reported to spring training and is ready to see how he feels coming off a year of concussion problems.
N.Y. Yankees: Injured pitcher David Aardsma agreed to a $500,000, one-year contract.
Philadelphia: Ryan Howard took live batting practice for the first time since he tore his left Achilles tendon while making the final out of the Phillies' season-ending 1-0 loss to St. Louis last postseason.
Texas: The Rangers hired former All-Star shortstop Tony Fernandez as a special assistant to general manager Jon Daniels.
Toronto: Dutch right-hander Rick VandenHurk agreed to a one-year contract.
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