Boston Red Sox: What Does a Franchise Owe to a Fan Favorite?

Tim Williams@TimSports24x7Contributor IJuly 6, 2012

OAKLAND, CA - JULY 04:  David Ortiz #34 of the Boston Red Sox swing and watches the flight of his ball as he hits career  home run #400, a solo shot in the fouth inning against Oakland Athletics at Coliseum on July 4, 2012 in Oakland, California.  (Photo by Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images)
Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images

Two Boston teams have displayed completely different strategies for managing their rosters. While the Celtics have largely kept their core of players together, the Red Sox have no problem dealing players who are fan favorites. Which strategy is superior?

On Causeway Street, the Celtics refuse to let their team be broken up by age or free agency.

After bringing in Ray Allen and Kevin Garnett via trade before the 2007-08 NBA season to pair with Paul Pierce and a very young and raw Rajon Rondo, the Celtics saw their recent fortunes take a dramatic turn. 

When things for the Celtics seemed to be at their worst, Danny Ainge used every bit of his resources to get Garnett and Allen. The Celtics went on to win the next NBA title and came oh-so-close  in 2010 against the Lakers and just last month against the Miami Heat. 

Fans love the Celtics team that has come out on the floor since 2007-08.  Possibly because of that, the Celtics’ front office seems to love them too.  Kevin Garnett re-signed this offseason with Boston, in a deal that will almost certainly guarantee that he retires in Celtic green.  Ray Allen is still weighing his options, but the Celtics are making sure that they are among those options despite the addition of shooting specialist Jason Terry. 

The fans are pleased—they, too, would offer Allen a deal and ensure Garnett stays put.  If those two are running low enough on energy that the team can’t add to their banners, so be it. 

Meanwhile, just outside of Kenmore Square, in Fenway Park, the Boston Red Sox’ front office is taking a much different tact.  Star players who helped the Red Sox win two World Series titles are expendable in the eyes of the powers that be. 

With the recent retirements of Tim Wakefield and Jason Varitek, as well as the trade of Kevin Youkilis, the Red Sox are left with only one member of their unforgettable 2004 squad.  That member would be David Ortiz, he of the 400 career home runs and handful of recent exchanges with Boston media.

In his latest exchange with USA Today, Ortiz lamented his contract status.  A one-year contract, Ortiz argues, is a bit insulting given his recent performance and his time in Boston as a whole. 

For some teams, this could be a logical move based on Ortiz’ limited skill set (he’s not a great baserunner and he’s enough of a liability in the field that NL teams need not apply for his services) and advancing age (despite still-excellent statistics). 

The Boston Red Sox, however, have had a recent habit of giving large long-term contracts to players such as Carl Crawford and John Lackey.  Daisuke Matsuzaka earned a $51 million deal from Boston (not counting the transfer fee) without ever throwing a major league pitch.  So perhaps Ortiz, clearly the face of the Boston Red Sox in 2012, has a point.

Approach this matter from a pure business standpoint, and Ortiz’ point is magnified.  Since purchasing the Red Sox, Fenway Sports Group has made a great deal of money from the team via ticket sales, NESN ratings and merchandising sales. 

While Boston is a phenomenal baseball town with great fans, it would be foolish to believe that those balance sheets would look as healthy had the Red Sox not won two World Series titles during that time.  Ortiz had a huge hand in that 2004 title, coming through with game-winning hits in Games 4 and 5 of the ALCS (and that’s just the tip of the iceberg). 

Pedro Martinez finished his career elsewhere.  Manny Ramirez wore out his welcome.  Nomar Garciaparra was traded (or sacrificed, if you’re a fan of superstition) on the 2004 trade deadline.  Varitek walked away. Nobody wanted to hold on to Orlando Cabrera. 

Curt Schilling has been retired long enough to have an entire second career start, peak, and fail.  Dave Roberts is on the Padres’ coaching staff, teaching other players to steal bases like his famous steal off of Mariano Rivera.  Kevin Millar retired and went into broadcasting. 

The ownership threw Terry Francona under the bus.  The franchise let Theo Epstein move on to a new challenge.  About the only Red Sox icons left over from 2004 are David Ortiz and broadcaster Jerry Remy.  Thus, Ortiz is the Red Sock above all other Red Sox. 

Five years of excellent play earned Kevin Garnett a three-year farewell tour for helping bring a great basketball franchise its first title in twenty two years. 

In 10 years of excellent play, David Ortiz brought the Red Sox to heights that nobody alive remembers the Red Sox reaching before he showed up.  Heights that they hadn’t reached since Babe Ruth was on the team. 

But does that mean that an entity who has paid Ortiz millions upon millions of more money than most people will ever even dream about still owes Papi something more? 

This is Boston, after all.  Will Garnett’s contract be applauded in its third year, when he’s at the very end of his time on a court and the Celtics can’t afford his replacement because they have no cap room?  What if Ray Allen comes back, but he’s the Ray Allen from the 2012 NBA playoffs and no longer an automatic shooter? 

Danny Ainge has accepted that risk—that if the Celtics do not perform moving forward he may be put on the “hot seat” for all his sentimentality.

Well, here’s the worst-case scenario regarding Ortiz:  The Red Sox decide not to sign him because of his public disappointment with prior negotiations, leading to what has become a tradition with the current front office—the smear campaign on recent departures. 

(Signing on with the Red Sox must be like asking Alanis Morissette out—you know that if things don’t go well, they could start singing about you at any moment.) 

With Ortiz energized and angered, he decides to sign with a team whose short right field porch lends itself perfectly to his lefty pull-hitter swing: the New York Yankees

If he hits so much as one home run wearing those pinstripes, Ben Cherington will be subject to the kind of scrutiny that only Dan Duquette knows firsthand.  Remember that Duquette was never forgiven locally for claiming that Roger Clemens was in “the twilight of his career” in the mid-1990s. 

That was still the headline when Duquette went out and traded for one of the greatest pitchers baseball has ever seen in Pedro Martinez.  Whiffing on Clemens was still Duquette’s story when he signed Manny Ramirez to a long-term deal. 

This is a man who pulled off one of the most lopsided trades anyone can remember—giving up Heathcliff Slocumb for Derek Lowe and Jason Varitek—and yet was run out of town because he made a mistake on one player.  (Of course, according to the Mitchell Report, maybe Duquette had a point all along.) 

So for Ben Cherington, that’s the worst-case scenario for upsetting David Ortiz:  he becomes Dan Duquette Part II.

For reference:  It took Dan Duquette another ten years to find a general manager job in Major League Baseball after he was no longer required in Boston.  

If I were Cherington, I would not want to alienate my lone remaining superstar—not to mention all of Ortiz' many fans.


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