With spring training underway for the Boston Red Sox, the regular season will be here before fans know it. But despite the promise of a new year, Boston should be concerned about the health of designated hitter David Ortiz.
The 37-year-old Ortiz was headed towards one of his best seasons in 2012, hitting .318 with 23 home runs, 60 RBI and a 1.026 OPS in 90 games. Unfortunately, an Achilles injury shut him down, allowing him to play in only one major league game after July 16.
He has still not healed sufficiently to be able to play in a game.
This past offseason, he underwent a variety of treatments, including shockwave therapy, according to NESN.com.
Despite the lingering issue with the Achilles, the Red Sox signed Ortiz to a two-year extension this past offseason, which could be worth as much as $30 million.
WEEI’s Rob Bradford reported that Boston did have protective language added to the pact, but the team is still on the hook for significant money if anything goes wrong.
At this point, there is cause for alarm because of the length of time it’s taking the left-handed slugger to get healthy.
When asked by The Boston Globe’s Peter Abraham early last December about when he would be ready, Ortiz responded, “Very soon.”
Now, months later, he still seems to be in the same holding pattern.
In a separate article, Abraham recently reported that Ortiz admitted his injury was a partial Achilles tear. While he hasn’t been cleared to play, he hopes to be ready in 7-10 days and is looking towards the bigger picture, "They’re just being smart and not trying to rush. We have another six weeks still. They want to make sure that when I’m in, there’s no setback."
New Boston manager John Farrell told the Providence Journal's Tim Britton he believes Ortiz can get in the necessary spring training work to be ready for the team’s first regular season game on April 1 against the New York Yankees. Farrell elaborates, "If you ask any hitter, they get their timing pretty good in a two-week period. That’s going to give him probably 35-40 at-bats. Time’s on our side in terms of a position player."
But something isn’t adding up here, as the sidelined Ortiz announced to the Boston Herald’s Scott Lauber that structurally, everything appears normal with his heel:
That little tear I had is gone because of all the things we did in the offseason. The picture of my Achilles looks normal, looks like a brand-new Achilles. So, I’m not afraid of that. If I’m afraid of that, I wouldn’t be doing what I’m doing.
Abraham wrote that Ortiz has taken batting and fielding practice, while doing some weight lifting. Ortiz told him that he doesn’t believe he’s in any danger of reinjuring himself:
I’m not afraid of that. If I’m afraid of that I wouldn’t be doing what I’m doing. If you have a tear, any bad move that you make it will snap. That’s not my concern anymore. I think we’ll be fine.
If Ortiz, a veteran of 16 major league seasons and the longest-tenured member of the Red Sox, is structurally sound, then it should be asked why it’s taking so long for him to come back?
The Red Sox should be thinking about a contingency plan if Ortiz isn’t ready to go at the start of the season. Not only is he an aging player dealing with a nagging injury, but it’s also been more than seven months since he last played regularly.
If he continues to be unable to play, then his absence from the lineup could have major repercussions for the Red Sox.
While they have a good starting lineup, their bench is a bit thin, especially when it comes to offensive production. The team would likely have to choose among Mike Carp, Ryan Sweeney, Daniel Nava or David Ross, if they needed someone to fill in for their anticipated cleanup hitter.
Boston might be compelled to trade for a bat if Ortiz is out for any length of time, which would likely cost them in prospects and/or from their vaunted bullpen depth.
Ortiz conveyed his frustration to Bradford, but indicated he’s eyeing the long-term, "I want to play. But, you know what? I just want to be ready for Opening Day. They don’t want to rush me. That’s not a smart thing to do."
For now, waiting is the name of the game.
However, the Red Sox should be crossing their fingers that Ortiz is pronounced healthy and ready to go soon or they could start the year with serious questions and a hole to fill.
Statistics via BaseballReference