David Ortiz: Is Big Papi Era About to End for Boston Red Sox Nation?

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David Ortiz: Is Big Papi Era About to End for Boston Red Sox Nation?
Mike Stobe/Getty Images

David Ortiz struck out three more times yesterday, reminding us that he has truly become an all-or-nothing hitter. 

Ortiz now has 109 whiffs in 340 at-bats this season, which means he's striking out a whopping 32 percent of the time.

The Boston DH's strikeout total is third highest in the AL, behind Austin Jackson (114) and Carlos Pena (111). For the record, the latter two are both position players who make an impact defensively, at least mitigating some of the impact of their frequent strike outs.

However, Ortiz's 24 homers are fourth in the AL and tied for 10th best in baseball. And his 73 RBI are 10th in the AL and 16th in baseball.

The Red Sox have a big decision to make with Ortiz this winter. Do they pick up the $12.5 million option on his contract, which would pay him about twice what other DHs around the league are making?

Or do they try to renegotiate the deal to two years at roughly the same price? 

Would Ortiz even be willing to accept the same dollars for two years instead of one?

Despite his power resurgence, Ortiz is only hitting .259 this season, and just .209 against lefties.

In previous years, he was considered a one dimensional player because he couldn't field. Now he's even more one-dimensional because he can only hit for power. 

Ortiz has just 88 hits this season, putting him on track for less than 120 for the entire year. That's a paltry sum. During his peak years with the Red Sox (2004-2007), Ortiz averaged 174 hits a year. 

Ortiz is an important figure in the Red Sox' success this decade. A member of two World Series winners, he has become the face of the franchise and is a truly beloved figure throughout New England. 

In fact, Ortiz is one of the few players universally loved throughout baseball. Remember how his peers cheered for him during the Home Run Derby in Anaheim last month? 

Ortiz is one of baseball's goodwill ambassadors. He is a smiling, lovable character that fans and players alike seem to gravitate toward and root for.

Without question, Big Papi's place in Red Sox history is secure; his 283 homers with the club are fifth best all time. If Ortiz returns to the team next season, he will join Ted Williams, Carl Yastrzemski, Jim Rice and Dwight Evans as the only Red Sox players with 300 home runs. That's some pretty nice company. 

And, with 903 RBI as a Red Sox, he could become just the sixth player to drive in 1,000 runs with the team (Yastrzemski, Williams, Rice, Evans and Doerr).

In addition, with 341 career homers (as a member of the Twins and Red Sox), Ortiz has an outside shot at 400 for his career. Assuming he hits 10 more this season (which is a conservative estimate), Ortiz would need to average about 25 homers over the next two years to reach the mark.

The question is whether he will get a chance to do it with the Red Sox. 

A player like Adam Dunn may be a far more attractive alternative to the Red Sox. Since 2004, only Albert Pujols (279) has more homers than Dunn (272).

At 30 years of age, Dunn is younger than the 34-year-old Ortiz, and he is a better, more consistent run producer. Dunn also offers more versatility in that he can play first base and the corner outfield positions, though not particularly well. Right field at Fenway could be a disaster for the 6'6", 285 pound behemoth. 

But Dunn has said he is willing to DH, and the Red Sox would presumably use him in that capacity the vast majority of the time. However, his versatility is a great asset.

Going forward, the best DH for the Red Sox is one that offers them the versatility of being able to field a position, as well as hit for power, drive in runs, and get on base. At this point, Ortiz doesn't adequately fulfill all of those objectives.

Indeed, Ortiz can still get draw a walk; his 61 free passes are fifth best in the AL and are tied for 11th in baseball. But, due to his declining average, Ortiz's on-base percentage has suffered in recent years.

In his first five seasons in Boston, Ortiz batted .302. But those days are now long gone. Over the past three seasons, Ortiz is batting just .254. 

Defensive shortcomings aside, with his advancing age, declining batting average, and high strikeout totals, Ortiz isn't the same player he was a few years ago when he among the game's most potent offensive forces. 

As a result, free agency won't offer as many options as it once would have. There is no question that Ortiz is suited only for the American League.

For his part, the affable Red Sox star says he would like to finish his career with the club. 

"I'm going to tell you, I ain't going nowhere,'' Ortiz said last month, in reference to his contract status.

Ortiz isn't just thinking about his option-year either; he says he wants an extension. However, if he intends to stay, it will be on the Red Sox terms.

The only question at this point is whether he's willing to play two seasons for essentially the price of one. The Red Sox will almost certainly decline his 2011 option and seek to renegotiate the base price down, perhaps seeking to fill it with performance incentives instead. 

Will Ortiz's ego get in the way of such a decision?

There is no doubt that Ortiz is heavily invested in the local community, which could impact his decision. Aside from his numerous charitable works, he is a co-owner of the recently opened Big Papi's Grill in Framingham, MA.

We'll soon find out how much he wants to remain a member of the Red Sox, and if the team believes there are better alternatives available this offseason.

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