It’s looking more likely that Boston Red Sox designated hitter and cleanup man David Ortiz won’t be ready for the start of the season, and may even be out for an extended period of time. If the slugger does have a lengthy absence, the team should seriously consider signing veteran free agent Jim Thome.
Ortiz has yet to play an inning this spring because of an inability to rebound from a partially torn Achilles that has caused him to miss all but one game since last July 16.
Most recently, it was announced the team shut down the 37-year-old left-handed hitter for a week to see if it would help address discomfort he’s been experiencing in both heels.
MLB.com’s Ian Browne reported that the MRIs showed inflammation in both feet, but indicated no further structural damage. Regardless, the pain Ortiz is experiencing is keeping him off the field and putting his availability further and further away.
In a separate article, Browne reported that Boston manager John Farrell seems resigned that Ortiz will open the season on the disabled list, and has no specific player to replace him in mind:
Those conversations are starting and it's just talking about the combination of guys who might be in a bench slot to more regular at-bats DH-wise. We're by no means at a point of saying, 'This is who our DH is going to be or this is who else is going to be on the roster,' but those conversations are happening more in earnest.
We envision it as being a little bit of a rotation, so not to say one person would be strictly a DH. That's an initial approach. To say that it would be a drastic shift to a player's routine or staying loose in between at-bats to what they might not otherwise be accustomed to, we haven't pinpointed one guy. We don't have another David Ortiz.
It’s going on eight months since Ortiz has been able to play in a game. At this point, there should be increasing pessimism that will change soon.
If he is out for more than a few weeks, the Red Sox can’t rely on a rotating DH, especially when their regular player at that position is so integral to their offense. They need to find a big bat that can play in the middle of their lineup.
That player could be Jim Thome.
If a long-term replacement was needed, some might want the team to trade for players like Alfonso Soriano and the $36 million remaining on his contract. But, a player like the left-handed Thome is a cheaper option and may be the closest thing to an Ortiz facsimile.
In his 10 years in Boston, Ortiz has posted a .389 OBP and .962 OPS. His ability to hit for power and get on base is what makes him an ideal anchor in the Boston lineup. Any possible replacement would ideally offer similar qualities.
Thome is quite literally one of the greatest sluggers in the history of baseball. In a 22-year major league career, his 612 home runs rank seventh all-time, while his 1,699 RBI are good for 24th.
He also boasts a cumulative batting average/OBP/OPS split of .276/.402/.956.
His last season as a full-time starter came in 2008 with the Chicago White Sox, when he hit .245 with 34 home runs and 90 RBI in 149 games.
During the past four seasons, he has used more sparingly, but has still produced, with OPS marks of .847, 1.039, .838 and .786.
He also told Fox Sports’ Ken Rosenthal that he’s still willing and able to play in 2013:
For me, what I’ve done in the game, I felt really strongly about that. I still love the game. I want to keep playing. But I felt after 20-something years, that if I went back and played, I wanted to get an opportunity to make a club at the major-league level. To me, that was important. I feel I’m still a major-league player. I’m in great shape.
Thome will turn 43 in late August, and is purely a DH and pinch hitter at this stage of his career. Despite his age, it shouldn’t be out of the realm of possibility that he could be productive with 20-25 at-bats per week.
He would also be a cheap replacement, having made just $1.25 million last season with the Philadelphia Phillies. Bringing him in wouldn’t break the bank for a team with a payroll already north of $160 million.
Hopefully, Ortiz will be healthy enough to play most of the 2013 season. But, if his injury continues to linger and the Red Sox need a long-term replacement, Thome should be the first player they call.
Statistics via Baseball-Reference