If David Ortiz continues to dominate American League pitching in 2014 and beyond, he'll defy history and be remembered alongside the greatest hitter ever. If he doesn't, the Red Sox will look wise for balking at his current contract demands, according to an Ortiz interview on the "Bradford Files," a sports talk show on WEEI.com.
While the Red Sox are expecting gigantic production out of their slugger this year, committing to a long-term deal with a Ortiz now would be outlandish. Sure, the team would risk cutting ties with a productive, star-level contributor. Yet, the odds of Ortiz continuing his assault on the record books are slim.
From a team perspective, he helped lead the Red Sox to an improbable worst-to-first run in the American League East, captured the pennant and crushed the St. Louis Cardinals' pitching in the World Series.
As an individual, Ortiz hit 30 home runs, tallied 292 total bases and posted an OPS+ of 160, the latter of which was tied for the fourth-best mark in all of baseball, Baseball-Reference (subscription required). At the age of 37, the longtime Red Sox slugger posted the fourth-best adjusted OPS of his storied career.
When 2015 arrives, Ortiz will be entering his age-39 season. If the Red Sox offer him a contract extension now—on the heels of the legendary, championship season—Ortiz will hold the leverage in negotiations, likely resulting in a salary that is indicative of the kind of campaign he just posted.
In order to justify a major salary in 2015, Ortiz will have to rake again. When looking at baseball history, few hitters have ever posted age-39 seasons similar to Ortiz's 2013. In fact, only one matched him in all categories.
Since 1901, only five hitters—Barry Bonds, Henry Aaron, Steve Finley, Willie Stargell and Cy Williams—have hit 30-plus home runs in their age-39 seasons, respectively.
Only three—Bonds, Finley and Paul Molitor—matched Ortiz's 2013 total bases output of 292 at that advanced age.
Again, only three—Babe Ruth, Ted Williams and Barry Bonds—equaled or bettered Ortiz's adjusted OPS of 160 during their age-39 campaigns.
Those players' numbers and statistics paint a picture that likely is weighing heavily on the minds in Boston's front office: Unless Ortiz defies the history of 99.9 percent of baseball players, he won't continue to hit at the level we saw in 2013.
Furthermore, only one player on those respective lists appeared each time: Barry Bonds.
In 2004, Barry Bonds, at age 39, was the best player in the sport. His total domination, even more outstanding that Ortiz's 2013 season, is a complete and total anomaly among older players. Regardless of how Bonds achieved his stature and prowess in that particular season, it happened.
While Ortiz supporters can dream of the aging slugger joining Bonds atop the list of all-time great age-39 seasons, it's not a sound business decision to expect those type of results. Instead, the Red Sox would be wise to wait out Ortiz's current deal, watch his production and health throughout 2014 and make a decision next winter.
Longtime Boston Globe columnist Dan Shaughnessy was a recent guest on MLB Network (video below) to discuss Ortiz and a possible contract extension. He implored the Red Sox to be prudent, not proactive, with a long-term offer to Ortiz.
For the Red Sox, the risk of an Ortiz contract extension simply outweighs the reward. That sentiment, echoed by Scott Lauber of the Boston Herald, classifies Ortiz as a risk moving forward due to his advance age.
The Red Sox simply need to see one more dominant season from their slugger to be convinced that he can continue his hitting tear into 2015 and beyond, just like Barry Bonds did a decade ago.
Of course, there's more to Ortiz's connection to the Red Sox franchise. If, and it's a big "if," Ortiz isn't offered a contract extension, rakes again in 2014, enters the free-agent market next winter and leaves for a higher bidder, Red Sox Nation will be enraged.
As Jonathan Bernhardt of Sports on Earth opined about here, the connection between Ortiz and Boston goes beyond just RBIs and October glory. When Ortiz stood up and spoke for the city of Boston in the aftermath of the Boston Marathon bombing last year, he forever included himself in the fabric of the city.
Bernhardt's column stated, "In one of the most emotionally charged moments in recent Boston history, he used the first-person plural to refer not to himself and all the guys in the locker room, but to himself and everyone in the stands—in the city."
Although past Red Sox greats like Pedro Martinez and Derek Lowe didn't engage the city in that kind of emotion, they were big parts of a championship team. Still, due to the analytically inclined and forward-thinking front office, both were allowed to leave when their asking price failed to meet Boston's long-term budget.
We're still a full year away from the potential of Ortiz bolting for another town or an awkward, drawn-out free-agency battle with a slugger on the doorstep of his 40th birthday. Although a public relations war could cast the Red Sox in a poor light, the only way an Ortiz extension makes sense right now is if he's truly Barry Bonds 2.0.
That notion, while not impossible, is far from probable. With millions of dollars in question, the Red Sox would be wise to move on from Ortiz one year too early rather than one year too late.