Missing “valuable” time will have another meaning for David Ortiz once the season begins in a couple of weeks.
Over the winter, Ortiz signed a two-year, $26 million contract with the Boston Red Sox. Ortiz is expected to make a base salary of $14 million in the upcoming season and $11 million the following year. But that all could change due to a clause in the deal he recently inked.
The clause states that Ortiz’s 2014 salary may increase to $13 million or $15 million based on the number of days on the active roster in 2013, according to Baseball Prospectus’ Cot’s Baseball Contracts. Ortiz will earn the additional $4 million in 2013 if he spends less than 20 days on the disabled list with a pre-existing Achilles injury.
General manager Ben Cherington knew Ortiz might miss time with the nagging Achilles that allowed him to play in just 90 games last season. It was very smart of him to add that clause into Ortiz’s deal, admitting that he’d probably be worth more if he was able to stay healthy. If Ortiz doesn’t stay healthy, Cherington doesn’t have to pay him nearly as much.
“As with any player, you’ve got to get to the bottom of the health and figure out the risk involved," Cherington told Joe McDonald of ESPN Boston at the time of the deal. “Our benefit is we know David so well and we know how hard he’s going to work to put himself in the best position to play and be healthy.”
Cherington went on to say that Ortiz was feeling much better and that it wasn’t a concern going forward more than any other player in a similar situation.
Well, now Ortiz isn’t feeling much better, and Cherington should be concerned. I calculated the odds of Ortiz playing on Opening Day, giving him a 40 percent chance of taking the field. That probability has gone down significantly over the last couple of days.
Ortiz recently had an MRI, which showed inflammation in both of his heels—something that’s caused him pain as he's tried to work his way back, according to Peter Abraham of The Boston Globe. Ortiz told Abraham he's likely to start the season on the disabled list since he has yet to play in one spring training game:
Opening Day was my goal. You heard me talking about it when I first got here. I was swinging good and I was pushing things the way I was being told. Right now, Opening Day seems like it’s not the case. The case is get me healthy for five or five and a half good months. You know what I’m saying? That’s what we’re looking for now.
This is bad news for Ortiz and bad news for the Red Sox.
The longer Ortiz is sidelined, the greater the chance he'll lose out on $4 million. Ortiz isn’t the type of player who is all about the money, but he has been vocal about his contract status in the past. Don’t think he won’t be doing everything in his power to make sure he’s back as quickly as possible without increasing the chance of re-injury.
Boston doesn’t have the best options to replace Ortiz either. I would assume that since Mike Napoli is a bit of a health risk, he’d be the immediate replacement as the designated hitter. There’s no need to play him in the field every day. In that scenario, Boston could employ Mike Carp, Daniel Nava or Mauro Gomez at first base while Ortiz likely sits on the sidelines recovering.
The main story here, though, is Ortiz’s health and its continued deterioration. The Red Sox would likely prefer Ortiz to be ready for Opening Day, but it's good for 2014 if Cherington will have an extra $4 million to spend elsewhere.