Source: Varitek to 'decide soon'

FORT MYERS, Fla. -- Jason Varitek, who was offered a minor-league contract and an invitation to big-league camp by the Boston Red Sox, was absent Sunday on the reporting date for the team's pitchers and catchers, and a source close to the longtime Boston catcher said he will "decide soon" whether he intends to continue his big-league career.

"I haven't heard that we should get his uniform ready," manager Bobby Valentine said when asked whether Varitek would be coming to camp.

Varitek, who turns 40 on April 11, has been with the Red Sox since his trade from Seattle in 1997. Only Tim Wakefield has been with the club longer, and Wakefield, 45, announced his retirement on Friday. Varitek last season signaled a desire to continue playing for at least a few more years, and fellow catcher Jarrod Saltalamacchia said that Varitek has been catching, throwing and hitting all winter.

But Varitek, a free agent who served as the Red Sox captain, has not been offered a big-league job by another club, and indications are that retirement may be the only course open to him unless he's willing to accept a minor-league deal.

The Red Sox signed veteran catcher Kelly Shoppach this offseason and also have prospect Ryan Lavarnway, who made a brief appearance in Boston last season, waiting in the wings.

Both Josh Beckett and Jon Lester expressed their regret that Varitek likely will not be back.

"I don't think you're going to find anybody in there that's played with him that's not going to say they're going to miss him," said Beckett, who has had Varitek behind the plate in 139 of the games he's pitched, far more than any other catcher (Paul Lo Duca caught 35 of his games in Florida).

"If Tek doesn't come back, he's going to be missed, severely. Both in the clubhouse and on the field. For me, I won't say especially, but for me, for sure.

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