Boston Red Sox Free Agency: 12 Reasons They Have to Keep David Ortiz
Every year, it seems that David Ortiz is on the precipice of disaster.
Every season, armchair scouts and amateur bloggers (myself included) predict that this is the year that Ortiz's pixie dust will wear off, that he will once again return to the unheralded, ignominious roots from whence he came.
Every year is the year that he's supposed to regress to Minnesota-level Papi, and cease to be the smiling, home run-hitting, swagger-iffic force of nature we have seen in Boston.
And every year they are wrong. Ortiz continues to produce at a remarkably high level. But Ortiz will be a free agent at the end of the 2011 season, and the Red Sox have a decision to make:
Do they once again invest in the player who has brought them unmatched success?
Or do they cut the cord early on Ortiz, bet that his production will diminish in the next year or so, and build towards the future?
It isn't a decision to be taken lightly, however the answer is surprisingly simple:
The Red Sox must keep David Ortiz.
What follows are 12 reasons why Boston would be foolish not to retain Big Papi's services, and why his value to the team goes far beyond anything that is measurable by home run totals or slugging percentages...
1. He's a Perfect Fit in Boston
Playing for the Red Sox is often compared to playing baseball under a microscope.
The media attention in Boston is unrelenting. The fans are demanding. The pressure is high, and not everyone can handle it.
But David Ortiz can. In fact, he has thrived in one of baseball’s most intense situations since the time he arrived in Boston.
Despite slumps and droughts, ups and downs, Ortiz remains calm. He doesn’t shy away from fans or the media, and most importantly, he hasn’t lost the love for the game that makes him so endearing.
Finding elite hitters who are capable of succeeding in Boston isn’t easy. In Ortiz, the Sox already have a player who perfectly embodies every trait they could want in a superstar.
Ultimately, this above all else is what makes Ortiz so indispensible to the Red Sox and the city of Boston.
2. He's the Face of the Franchise
Every successful franchise needs a face. A player who embodies the spirit and attitude of the city in which he plays.
The San Francisco Giants have Tim Lincecum.
The New York Yankees have Derek Jeter.
And the Boston Red Sox have David Ortiz.
On-field production aside, face-of-the-franchise-type players generally don’t get traded, and with good reason.
Because even if their game starts to falter (like Jeter’s has), or their luck begins to wane (like Lincecum’s has at times), these players continue to personify their cities on the field, and will never want for popularity or respect because of it.
You can make an argument that David Ortiz may decline as a hitter in the next few years. You can argue that he won’t be the player he once was, and that three years from now he will be a figurative shadow of his former self. And you may be right. I don’t think you are, but maybe.
However, even if this sort of prognostication turns out to be true, Big Papi is still untradeable. Even if he breaks down and his skills decline, he will still have the respect (and the hearts) of Red Sox fans. Nothing can take this away.
Some players are just meant to retire in certain uniforms. If David Ortiz doesn’t finish out his career with the Red Sox, it is a travesty. He should be a Bean Towner for life. Even if his production slows dramatically, he’s earned it.
3. Do Red Sox Fans Really Want to Face Papi in Another Uniform?
If Ortiz does leave the Red Sox, his potential landing spots will be limited.
He is a DH in the purest (and most limited) sense of the words, so he’ll have to stay in the American League. He would likely want to play for a contender, which limits his potential destinations even further.
With this in mind, Red Sox fans must ask themselves this question: In a playoff series, in a key moment, do you really want to see David Ortiz step to the plate wearing a Tigers, Rangers, Angels or even Yankees uniform? I don’t think so.
Ortiz’s career is already littered with some of the biggest hits at the biggest moments we’ve ever seen. Do you really want to light a fire underneath him by letting him go to a division rival to finish out career?
If the Sox let Ortiz go, you can bet he will be looking for revenge. Maybe this desire to prove that he isn’t washed up will take him to the Bronx, and lead to him donning the hated pinstripes.
And if the thought of David Ortiz batting for the Yankees in the ninth inning of a key playoff game against Boston doesn’t scare Red Sox fans, it should.
Because the last thing you want in that situation is an extremely motivated, clutch hitting ex-employee looking to prove his former employers wrong.
4. He's One of the Best Hitters in Baseball
You don’t need sabermetrics or advanced stats to know that David Ortiz is still one of the best hitters in baseball, but I'll hit you with some anyways.
He’s 12th in baseball in OPS, 16th in home runs, 11th in RBI, and is far and away the best DH in baseball in nearly all offensive statistical measures. He's on pace for his first 5+ WAR season since 2007, and he's striking out at a career-low 12.8%.
He’s also hitting over .300 and has been an elite offensive player since 2003.
A resume like that truly speaks for itself. Ortiz is one of the best in the game. He has been for nearly 10 years. Any arguments that claim that he will decline are based purely on hypotheticals and amateur prognostication.
In reality, Ortiz is as good as it gets at his position. If the Red Sox decide they don’t want him, there are 13 other AL teams who would love to have him.
5. To Cement His Legacy as a Boston Red Sox Legend
David Ortiz has done what no other player in Red Sox history has been able to. He helped the Red Sox do the what was once unthinkable—win not one, but two World Series championships. He’s made All-Star teams, gotten clutch hits and has done it all while remaining beloved by Bostonites.
But retiring as a Red Sox would take his legacy to the next level. If he finishes his career in Boston, he will join the all time greats of the city—the Ted Williams’, the Pedro Martinez's, the Carlton Fisk’s—as not only a great baseball player, but as a piece of living history, another great ambassador for baseball in Boston.
Whether he stays or goes, Ortiz is likely a Hall of Famer. But retiring in a Red Sox uniform will ensure him of a very special place in the city of Boston.
6. It's Only Money
There has been much discussion over whether Ortiz will be worth another 3-4 year investment by the Red Sox. To which I have this reply:
John Lackey – $82.5 million
Daisuke Matsuzaka – $52 million
Carl Crawford – $142 million
J.D. Drew - $70 million
What I’m trying to say is: the Red Sox have more than enough money to go around, and if they want to save money, then lowballing a franchise legend is a terrible place to start.
If the Red Sox have enough cash to blow a combined $346.5 million on the players listed above, then giving Ortiz another short contract is a relatively small risk.
I mean really, just between two starting pitchers, the Red Sox effectively have $134.5 million in dead money on their roster. Ortiz isn’t going to cost $100 million or anywhere close to that. Whatever money Big Papi does get will be a small price to pay in comparison.
Neither Lackey, Matsuzaka, or Crawford have the history in Boston that Ortiz does. They don’t have the proven track record of postseason success, and they aren’t adored by the people of Boston like Papi is.
Their contracts were inarguably bigger gambles than giving Ortiz a three-year deal would be, yet the Red Sox did not hesitate to pull the trigger.
In this light, it seems that re-signing Ortiz is a rather low-risk proposition.
7. To Keep Baseball's Most Dangerous Lineup Intact
When the Red Sox acquired Adrian Gonzalez, their lineup rocketed up a level or two or five.
Before, their lineup was dangerous. Now it is downright scary.
Before, you could pitch around Ortiz and take your chances with Pedroia, Youkilis and Ellsbury. Now you have to pitch to Ortiz. There is no other choice.
Boston’s lineup is so potent because of depth, balance, and the fear of an impending at-bat by Gonzalez or Ortiz with runners in scoring position. If you remove one of these names from the equation, the lineup is still very good. But not as good as it could be.
Having one big bat in the middle of an order is great. Having two is the stuff World Series rings are made of.
People can talk all they want about how Ortiz will be less effective two or three years from now, how he will start breaking down sooner rather than later. But that is all conjecture.
Here are the facts: Ortiz has not yet broken down, he is still very dangerous, and as a result of Ortiz’s continued excellence, the Red Sox have the best offense in baseball.
Breaking up a lineup this special based on projections and guesses is just silly, especially when the player you are projecting has defied all the odds up to this point.
8. A Good DH Is Hard to Find...
...And getting a great DH is damn near impossible.
David Ortiz is a great DH.
Ostensibly, it would seem that the designated hitter would be an easy role to fill on a baseball team.
Every team has potential DH’s in their organization. The career AAA hitters. The guys who never found a position or who strike out too much, but always have the threat of power on their side.
But in reality, DH is one of the hardest roles in baseball to fill. There are very few players who can excel outside of the rhythm of the game, who can come in off the bench and succeed at a moment’s notice.
David Ortiz was born to fill this role, and the Red Sox would be foolish to discard him.
Further, a good DH can truly separate a good team from a great one. The Yankees have been held back by the failures of their various attempts to turn former All-Star position players into effective designated hitters.
The Indians have risen and sunk with their DH, Travis Hafner. When he’s hitting well, they are legit contenders. When he isn’t, they are afterthoughts. The same can be said of the Tigers and Victor Martinez.
In Ortiz, the Red Sox have a clear positional advantage that is unmatched in the American League. He is one of the best designated hitters of all time, is head and shoulders above his current competition and replacing him would be no easy task.
9. He's Not as Likely to Regress as You Might Think
Yes, David Ortiz is getting older. And obviously at some point, he will cease to be an effective hitter. But that day may be further away than people think.
Throughout his career, Ortiz has managed to avoid the wear and tear and nagging injuries that commonly hamper position players in the latter stages of their careers.
He doesn’t play the field, so he has avoided many of the bumps, bruises, sprains and strains that have a cumulative effect on a baseball player’s life span.
Ortiz is never going to catch a spike to the knee or hurt himself laying out for a fly ball. He stays fresh throughout the year because all he does is hit.
In some ways, Ortiz’s career arc is already abnormal. He blossomed late, and has stayed effective much later than most. However, he has been able to accomplish this because his body hasn’t suffered in the same way that other players have.
At some point, Ortiz will regress. However, at his current pace, and with his current workload, that point may not come for another two to four years anyways.
10. The Red Sox Will Have Other Issues to Address in the Offseason
Finding weaknesses on the best team in baseball seems a lot like nit picking, but the Red Sox are not a team without flaws or difficult decisions on the horizon.
After Josh Beckett and John Lester, the Boston starting rotation is populated by overpaid, incredibly hittable pitchers who could easily torpedo the team’s postseason chances.
Theo Epstein must decide if he wants to commit even more money to starting pitchers, or risk going forward with Lackey and Matsuzaka.
The team still hasn’t found a permanent solution for the future at catcher, and Jason Veritek isn’t getting any younger. I doubt Boston fans are eager to see ‘Tek start another season behind the dish.
Between these (potentially major) issues, and smaller roadblocks like paying Jacoby Ellsbury more money, and deciding whether to extend Jonathan Papelbon or let Daniel Bard take over the closer’s role, Theo Epstein has plenty on his plate.
Why add replacing an elite DH to the list?
11. Clubhouse Chemistry
The Red Sox are an incredibly talented team. But with talent comes ego, and the Sox have plenty of that as well.
David Ortiz has a calming, balancing effect on the Red Sox locker room (unless you try to take away his RBI…don’t you EVER try to take away his RBI!).
He is great without being egotistical. He is accessible and friendly. He plays hard and gets visible joy out of the game.
The Red Sox will undoubtedly add more elite talent to their roster in the future. And with it will come even more ego.
Locking down Ortiz as the anchor of the locker room would be a wise investment, regardless of his on-field production.
12. The Fans
During his time in Boston, David Ortiz has gained a level of popularity usually reserved for rock stars and hometown heroes.
And while Boston has shuffled through some of baseball’s most widely derided personalities (J.D. Drew, John Lackey and Manny Ramirez come immediately to mind), Ortiz has served as a counterbalance to some of his more unlikeable teammates.
Ortiz is everything a baseball fan wants to root for. He is a great player, a great teammate, and most importantly, he doesn’t seem burdened by the game.
Ultimately, baseball is a kid’s game. We all grow up playing it, hoping that we will be able to one day make a living out of doing something that brings us joy.
But too often in pro sports, we see professional athletes who are burdened by their fame and fortune. Somewhere along the way, most baseball players lose the joy that got them playing in the first place.
But not Ortiz. Ortiz loves baseball, and baseball loves him. He is easy to root for because he seems to intrinsically embody what all fans want to see—an appreciation for the opportunities baseball has afforded him.
Ortiz’s talent is rare. His attitude is even harder to find. The combination of the two makes him one of the game’s great specimens.
And if you have any respect at all for your fans, you don’t trade a player like that.