In sports, some marriages between a player and franchise seem destined to last forever. Derek Jeter owns New York. Aaron Rodgers is the king of Green Bay.
David Ortiz and the Boston Red Sox have been a match made in baseball heaven since 2003. They have won three championships together, with Ortiz hitting in the heart of each World Series lineup and winning MVP of the 2013 Fall Classic.
Entering the final season of a two-year contract, Ortiz is being very vocal about his desire for a new multi-year contract.
During an interview with CBS4 in Boston (via ESPNBoston.com), Ortiz said that while he would like to retire as a member of the Red Sox, if the business side of baseball takes them apart, so be it: "As long as they keep offering me a job and I keep doing what I'm supposed to do and the relationship keeps on building up, I'm going to be there. Hopefully, I won't have to go and wear another uniform."
These threats aren't anything new for Ortiz, who seems to insist every time his contract gets down to one year that he wants a multi-year extension or will take his talents elsewhere.
During the 2010 All-Star break, when the Red Sox held a 2011 option for Ortiz, the designated hitter told Gordon Edes of ESPNBoston.com that one year wasn't enough because he didn't like the distractions it brought. "I don't want one year. Why should I return for one year and go through the same [stuff] I'm going through now, just because it's my last year? No. I like to be left alone when I'm playing baseball. I know how to clean my [stuff] up."
Ortiz will play the 2014 season at 38 years old and is coming off an impressive .309/.395/.564 line last year. He already defied the odds by playing at a high level at this point in his career, especially when there were calls in some circles for Boston to release him due to a disastrous start in 2009.
But these aren't your older brother's Red Sox anymore. General manager Ben Cherington operates differently than the previous regime.
The longest free-agent contract given out during the Cherington era, which excludes extensions for players already under contract (Dustin Pedroia), is three years (Shane Victorino, Mike Napoli).
Ortiz does have the same luxury that Pedroia did—being an established star for the franchise and icon in the city—which could give him additional leverage if/when the Red Sox try to open negotiations.
Cherington said in a Jan. 9 interview with WEEI Radio's The Hot Stove Show that the Red Sox plan on keeping dialogue open with Ortiz and his agent throughout the season:
Our position hasn’t changed when it comes to David. It has been, for some time and I expect it will continue to be, we want him to finish his career with the Red Sox and we want him to do that in a way that’s right for him, that’s right for us, that fits his career and fits the type of player that he is, is graceful and all those things. Right now we’re counting on him being in the middle of our lineup for 2014 and we’re lucky to have him. Certainly the door will be open and there will be a chance to talk about it, whether it’s in spring training or into the season.
As long as the Red Sox are able to control the negotiations, staying in their usual comfort zone, re-signing Ortiz would certainly be a smart move by a franchise that has been defined by those in recent years.
Cherington mentioned how important Ortiz is in that WEEI interview, but there are other factors to consider before simply saying, "Yes, re-sign him under any circumstances."
Jon Lester, who was brilliant last October with a 1.56 ERA in five starts and who has led the rotation for six years, is also going to be a free agent after the 2014 season. He's eight years younger than Ortiz and is one of the best starters in baseball, ranking 10th in strikeouts per nine innings (8.23), 12th in innings pitched (1,232) and 13th in fielding independent ERA (3.57) since 2008.
Perhaps the Red Sox have enough money in the budget to keep both Ortiz and Lester, but if the choice comes down to one or the other, how do you go against the younger starting pitcher?
If the Red Sox were forced to choose, which player should they re-sign?
After all, Lester has said, per The Boston Globe's Peter Abraham, that he would take a discount to stay in Boston. Saying that is one thing, though how often do we hear pitchers say they will take less money to stay where they are only to see the riches offered on the open market?
If Ortiz wants to control the negotiations, to sign one more massive contract before retiring, the Red Sox should thank him for his services and wish him all the best in his future endeavors.
There will be tremendous backlash from the fans because of Ortiz's status in the city, but this front office has earned a lot of leash based on everything that went right in 2013.
With a player like Ortiz, who is nearing the end of his career, the Red Sox should play things cautiously and get out—say, one year too early—than be stuck on the hook for two or three years when he's unable to play up to his current standard.
Barring an extension in spring training, the Red Sox should use the 2014 season to evaluate how Ortiz makes it through a long season at the age of 38 and make their ultimate determination then.
Getting sucked into external factors (fan backlash, history, etc.) is what got Boston in trouble before Cherington was able to sell the team's bad contracts to the Los Angeles Dodgers two years ago. It can't happen again, even for an iconic player like David Ortiz.
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