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Major League Baseball: Shoppach signing could mean end for Varitek in Boston

By Jimmy Golen

AP Sports Writer

BOSTON -- The Boston Red Sox want Jason Varitek back.

It might not be as a player, though.

Two days after signing free agent Kelly Shoppach -- giving the Red Sox a full complement of three catchers who are expected to be on the major league squad -- general manager Ben Cherington said the team is still talking to the captain and longtime backstop about remaining with the ballclub "in some way."

"We have incredible respect for 'Tek. I have incredible respect for 'Tek on a personal level," Cherington said Thursday on a conference call with reporters to discuss the team's latest moves. "We, as an organization and ownership, have incredible respect for him and for the contributions he's made.

"Our hope is that 'Tek will always be a part of the Red Sox in some way."

Cherington would not elaborate on private discussions with Varitek and his agent, Scott Boras, but said they are working to "figure out what's best for the Red Sox, and what's best for him." It has been long assumed that when Varitek is done playing he would join the Boston coaching staff.

But Boras indicated Varitek might not be ready to retire.

"I've had discussions with them about 'Tek, but it's been about playing," Boras said. "Any thoughts about coaching have not been addressed, to my knowledge."

In Providence, R.I., on Thursday, Red Sox owner John Henry said he had tried to contact Varitek to let him know the team appreciates his 15-year career.

"He should be a part of this organization for the rest of his life," Henry said. "No matter what he decides to do, he's always going to be welcome here. He's a huge part of the history of this organization, which is why he should be a part of the future of this organization."

Speaking at the Rhode Island State House to announce a new scholarship program sponsored by the Red Sox Foundation, Henry declined to elaborate on a possible non-playing role for Varitek. "Until I have a chance to discuss it with him, I don't want to discuss it publicly," Henry said.

Varitek, who will be 40 by the home opener, joined a franchise that hadn't won a World Series in almost eight decades and became a pivotal part of two championship teams.

Since 2008 he has batted .218, including a .220 average last year while appearing in just 68 games.

With Jarrod Saltalamacchia tabbed as the starter and prospect Ryan Lavarnway looking to move up to the majors this year, Boston signed Shoppach, a product of the Red Sox system, to a one-year, $1.35-million contract this week.

Shoppach batted .176 with 11 homers and 22 RBIs in 87 games last season with Tampa Bay while throwing out 36.6 percent of runners attempting to steal.

Cardinals sign ex-Twin Romero

ST. LOUIS (AP) -- Left-handed reliever J.C. Romero has agreed to a one-year contract with the St. Louis Cardinals.

The 35-year-old, who started his career with the Minnesota Twins, went 1-0 with a 4.01 ERA in 24-2/3 innings over 36 games last season.

Romero ended the 2011 season with Colorado after beginning the year with Philadelphia. He was re-leased by the Ph-illies in June, by the Na-tionals in July and by the Yankees in August, spending time in the Washington and New York minor league systems.

Romero has a 34-28 career record with a 4.07 ERA, winning the World Series with Philadelphia in 2008. He leads lefties in games pitched from 2002-11 with 633.

Philly signs Willis to one-year deal

PHILADELPHIA (AP) -- The Philadelphia Phillies signed lefty Dontrelle Willis to a one-year contract Thursday, worth $850,000.

The 30-year-old Willis was the 2003 NL Rookie of the Year with Florida and finished second in Cy Young Award voting in 2005. He was 1-6 with a 5.00 ERA for Cincinnati last year.

The deal includes $400,000 in performance bonuses, including $25,000 for 30 plate appearances.

Willis is expected to pitch out of the bullpen for the Phillies, who've won five straight NL East titles. He's 72-69 with a 4.17 ERA in nine seasons with four teams. Willis has made just three relief appearances in 205 career games.