David Ortiz: Why the Boston Red Sox Should Not Offer Him a Long-Term Extension
But if he’s looking for a new four- or five-year contract come the offseason, Boston should tell him to look elsewhere.
Nothing personal against one of the most loveable players in Red Sox history. It’s just business. (Many thanks to The Godfather.)
Sentimentality is nice, and a team can feel good about properly rewarding a player for their longstanding contributions to the club. But only if that sentimentality doesn’t represent a financial burden to the team.
Boston shouldn’t offer the long-term deal—probably at $15–20 million/year—that Ortiz will likely seek after the 2012 season. Here’s why.
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This was one of the 10 reasons why I thought, two months ago, that Papi could maintain his out-of-this-world start to 2012.
But it’s also a big reason to temper your enthusiasm about his potential performance beyond this season.
After all, Ortiz struggled through 2008-10 before salvaging the option year of his four-year, $52 million deal in 2011. He was performing like his livelihood depended on it last year, and he’s doing it again this year.
One could make the argument that Ortiz’s last season-and-a-half is where he should be when he’s fully healthy, as he struggled with various injuries during his late-2000s slide.
But big contract years happen frequently in baseball, and it’s plain to see when it’s happening. Daniel Engber of Slate looked at David Wright’s hot start to 2012 as another example:
With his finances in the lurch—the Mets must decide whether to keep him for 2013—he stands to gain more than ever from having an incredible “comeback” season. He has a financial incentive to train harder, play harder, and hit the ball harder than he did last year.
If Ortiz is handed a big deal after this season, a big incentive for his uptick in productivity will disappear.
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Papi has looked slimmer, faster through the strike zone and tougher to fool than in any season since 2007.
But it doesn’t change the fact that he’ll be 37 years old on Opening Day 2013.
Having been a DH for the vast majority of his career, Ortiz does not carry the wear and tear of most position players pushing 40. Still, at the start of next season Papi will be a decade older than when most players hit their primes.
And for all the efforts Papi made in the offseason to get in better shape, he can't stave off Father Time forever.
If Ortiz is rewarded with a longish-term deal, at some point during that contract his skills will diminish. The back end of such a deal would, in essence, be money for nothing.
Declining Importance of the DH
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Albert Chen of Sports Illustrated wrote a statistically enlightening piece in the April 11, 2011, issue with a clear cut thesis: “In an era that value run prevention and lineup flexibility, the DH as we knew it is a dying breed.”
The position used to be defined by premium hitters that managers could pencil in for 30 home runs and 100 RBI per season.
In 2012, Ortiz is only one of three primary designated hitters on the All-Star Game Ballot—along with Adam Dunn and Edwin Encarnacion—projected to reach those numbers. (Kansas City’s Billy Butler could join that group with a big second half.)
A selection of their counterparts on the ballot are a more accurate indicator of what the position has become. Wilson Betemit (.242/9/28); Luke Scott (.220/9/35); Seth Smith (.269/7/24).
A lack of big names and big numbers. That is what the DH position has devolved into. Why overpay or overextend for something that is declining in importance in the grand scheme of the game?
Team Emphasis on Player Development
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This was the second point in my June 19 column on the benefits that would come from the Red Sox missing the postseason.
Rather than overspending on free agents—including Sox players at the end of their contracts—Boston should go back to spending more on player development. It yielded several standbys in the mid-2000s, and it can continue to do so.
So what’s the benefit of having patience and waiting for the farmhands to develop as opposed to competing for every big-name free agent each offseason?
WEEI’s Mike Mutnansky provided this informative bit of information following Will Middlebrooks’s clutch performance in Boston’s 6–5 over Miami on June 21.
RedSox now 16-1 in games where Will Middlebrooks records an RBI #freemiddlebrooks— Mike Mutnansky(@MutWEEI) June 22, 2012
Imagine if the likes of pitcher Matt Barnes, shortstop Xander Bogaerts and catcher/DH Ryan Lavarnway progress through the system and make similar contributions in the next few years. It’s a thought that should bring a smile to the face of every Sox fan.
Loyalty to Boston
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In negotiations this offseason, Boston has one argument that (if worded delicately) could convince Ortiz to take a hometown discount: We made you who you are.
Papi was going nowhere as an undervalued player on the Minnesota Twins before the Sox signed him to a one-year deal in January 2003. Home runs with Minnesota (six seasons): 58. Home runs with Boston (nine seasons and counting): 338.
Ortiz is married with three children. He has clearly loved his time in Boston enough that you could see him staying there long-term, or at least be hesitant to uproot his family when they’ve been in the area for a decade.
Every potential conflict has a potential compromise. If Ortiz is willing to come back to Boston without breaking the bank—say, offer him $12 million/season for two seasons—show him the money and hope for the best.
But if he’s convinced that he can hit until he’s 40 and beyond—and wants to be paid at the same rate as his past six seasons—it’s time to say goodbye.