Mirabelli, the longtime personal catcher for knuckleballer Tim Wakefield, was released Thursday by the Sox, who appear likely go with minor league veteran Kevin Cash as Wakefield's caddy. By releasing Mirabelli now, the Sox only owe him $150,000 of the $550,000 he was scheduled to make in 2008. His contract would have become fully guaranteed had he still been on the 40-man roster as of Mar. 19.
"It's not a fun day," Terry Francona told reporters after the Sox and Rays played to a 3-3 tie. "It's tougher on Dougie. We don't enjoy those types of meetings, When you're in this position, there are days you have to have those meetings. He did a lot of things for us. We acknowledge that. We still have to make decisions as you go and [do] what you think puts the organization in the best light."
Despite Mirabelli's struggles on offense the last two years—he hit .196 in 297 at-bats—his release came as a surprise given his history with Wakefield and the Sox as well as the Sox' famously fruitless search for Mirabelli's successor two years ago.
When Wakefield returned to the rotation late in the 2002 season, then-manager Grady Little named Mirabelli as Wakefield's personal catcher as a way to give starter Jason Varitek a scheduled day off. Mirabelli and Wakefield quickly developed a chemistry on the field, where Mirabelli had success corralling the notoriously unpredictable knuckleball, and off it: The two lockered next to each other at Fenway Park and socialized together year-round.
Wakefield wasn't the only one fond of Mirabelli, who was tight with core veterans such as Jason Varitek, Curt Schilling and Mike Timlin. In addition, Francona has often referred to him as a potential future manager.
The Sox traded Mirabelli to the Padres for second baseman Mark Loretta in December 2005 and opened the 2006 season with Josh Bard as Wakefield's catcher. But Wakefield grew impatient with Bard, who committed 10 passed balls in just five starts with Wakefield, and the Sox were forced to trade Bard, minor league reliever Cla Meredith and cash to the Padres in exchange for Mirabelli May 1, 2006.
Wakefield pitched that night and Mirabelli arrived at the park, accompanied by a police escort, minutes before the first pitch and emerged from the dugout to a standing ovation. Unfortunately for Mirabelli, that was as good as it got during his second go-round. He hit just .193 with 54 strikeouts in 161 at-bats for the Sox following the trade while Bard (.338) and Meredith (1.07 ERA) emerged as vital contributors for the playoff-bound Padres.
At his season-ending press conference, Theo Epstein called the Mirabelli trade his biggest mistake of the season. So it was a surprise when the Sox re-signed Mirabelli—albeit at a 50 percent pay cut—in December 2006. Mirabelli continued to struggle offensively last year and spent time on the disabled list in August with a sore hamstring. Wakefield threw 14 straight scoreless innings in his two starts with Cash behind the plate, but it appeared as if Mirabelli would return for another season as the backup when he re-signed in January.
In the end, though, the Sox decided to go with Cash, who has hit just .167 in 359 big league at-bats but is seven years younger than Mirabelli. "I think the staff felt pretty strongly that Cash was prepared to do a better job and that led to the tough decision today to let Doug go," Epstein told reporters.
The timing of the decision should give Cash two chances to catch Wakefield before the Sox depart for Japan. Wakefield is likely to start Saturday against the Reds and against the Blue Jays in the Sox' Grapefruit League finale Mar. 19.
"He's proven he can catch Wakefield," Francona said. "They'll get some time now to work together before we leave also."
Diehard managing editor Jerry Beach can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. To receive a free issue of Diehard, call 888-501-5752.
Diehard Magazine Top Stories
Red Sox Sign Peralta to Minor League DealThe Boston Red Sox have signed infielder Jhonny Peralta to a minor league deal.
Hardball ScoopYesterday at 1:53 PM
Red Sox Claim Doug FisterDoug Fister heads to his second organization of 2017.
Hardball ScoopYesterday at 11:35 AM
Midseason Fantasy Baseball News & AdviceDr. Roto looks at the latest happenings around the world of Fantasy Baseball as we approach the halfway mark of the season!
Scout FantasyYesterday at 10:15 AM
Fantasy Baseball: Week 12 A.L. Closer ReportLooking for saves in your Fantasy Baseball league? Shawn Childs reveals his Week 12 American League Closer Report!
Scout FantasyWednesday at 12:41 PM