Boston Red Sox Free-Agent Options: 5 Replacements for David Ortiz If He Leaves
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The designated hitter, who’s been a member of the Sox since 2003 when they scooped him up from the Minnesota Twins, and the organization are destined for an ugly contract negotiation this offseason.
The Red Sox picked up a team option for $12.5 million this season. But nothing has been set in stone for beyond 2011.
Ortiz turns 36 on Nov. 18.
Since his arrival in Boston in 2003, Ortiz has never hit fewer than 28 home runs, 89 RBI and has only posted a slugging percentage below .500 once (.462 in 2009).
Whoever may fill Ortiz’s shoes will have a tough act to follow. But here are five possible replacements to Ortiz.
5. Ryan Lavarnway (C/DH)
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This is the only player on this list who is already employed by the Boston Red Sox. If the Red Sox opt for an in-house option to replace Ortiz, then this may be their man.
Lavarnway has torn up minor league pitching and is on the major league roster as we speak (in 28 at-bats: .250 batting average, four RBI, zero home runs and a .321 slugging percentage).
Those aren’t numbers that will cause opposing managers to lose sleep at night. But it would give a Boston minor league product the opportunity to prove his worth.
It’s tough to judge a player by his first 28 major league at-bats. He needs a larger sample size.
In 116 minor league games in 2011, spread out between AA and AAA, Lavarnway bombed 32 home runs, drove in 93 runs and batted .290.
The man has proven all he can perform at the minor league level. And at 24, which he turned on Aug. 7 of this year, now is the time to see if he’ll ever become anything.
4. Josh Willingham (OF/DH)
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This would be a very cheap out-of-house option for the Red Sox.
Willingham has always been a deceptively rich source of power.
Over the past five seasons, excluding 2011 (he’s hit 27 home runs to go along with 92 RBI and a .486 slugging percentage in 2011), he’s averaged 20.4 home runs, 66.4 RBI and a .4768 slugging percentage.
The RBI aren’t all that impressive, by Red Sox designated hitter standards, but those stats were posted during time with the Oakland Athletics, Florida Marlins and Washington Nationals. Those lineups aren’t filled with players like first baseman Adrian Gonzalez, second baseman Dustin Pedroia, outfielder Jacoby Ellsbury or third baseman Kevin Youkilis. With those guys in the lineup, there will likely be more runners on base when Willingham knocks baseballs over the Green Monster, boosting his numbers.
At 33—he turns 34 on Feb. 17—he’s still got some good years left and could be signed to a two-year contract for a similar number to his $6 million 2011 figure.
3. Prince Fielder (1B/DH)
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This man is the most talented player on this list and would be a great fit in Boston. Fielder, as a first baseman for the Milwaukee Brewers, has shown limited fielding skills over his seven-year career in Milwaukee.
He’s a National League free-agent-to-be who may look to the American League for a full-time designated hitter job.
Fielder has mashed the ball in 2011 (.295 batting average, 34 home runs, 112 RBI). If not for the year his teammate, outfielder Ryan Braun (.335 batting average, 31 home runs, 103 RBI), was having, Fielder could be the front-runner for the 2011 National League Most Valuable Player award.
Fielder has never struggled to mash the ball. Whenever he’s played 150 games or more in a season he’s never hit fewer than 28 home runs, 81 RBI or had a batting average below .261.
The problem with Fielder is the dollars it would cost to bring him in. He’s younger than Ortiz (he’ll turn 28 on May 9) but if Boston was willing to pay Fielder $20 million why wouldn’t it pay Ortiz the money he wants for a two-year deal?
2. Lance Berkman (1B/OF/DH)
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Lance Berkman will enter the 2012 free-agency period with plenty of leverage.
After a downtrodden 2010 season, the St. Louis Cardinals outfielder has shown that there’s still some gas left in the tank.
In 135 games this season he has driven in 89 runs, hit .299 and has 31 home runs to go along with a .407 on-base and .550 slugging percentage.
Berkman has come back in 2011 with a vengeance after a down 2010 campaign (.248 batting average, 14 home runs, 58 RBI in 122 games).
But if Boston signs Berkman to be its designated hitter, there is a bit of uncertainty—the Big Puma has never been a full-time designated hitter. How will he handle that role?
He’ll turn 36 on Feb. 12, so he’s no spring chicken. Given his age and declining defensive skills it would make sense for the Big Puma to look to the American League for a designated hitter opportunity.
There have also been rumors that he may merely opt to retire. We’ll see. But the opportunity to play for a year-in-year-out World Series contender like the Red Sox might be too good of an opportunity for him to pass up—Berkman has never won a World Series ring but was a member of the 2005 Houston Astros team that lost to the Chicago White Sox in the World Series.
1. Jason Kubel (OF/DH)
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Current Minnesota Twins outfielder and designated hitter Jason Kubel would be a great fit for the Red Sox.
Kubel has experience as a designated hitter, so unlike players who have never played the position before, there’s no concern about him struggling to put all of his efforts into that role.
Some players cannot handle life as a full-time designated hitter. On a day when they struggle at the plate, they rely upon their play in the field to pick them up. So when they lose their ability to make up a bad offensive day with a good defensive day, they mentally cannot handle it.
That's not a problem here.
Kubel has hit at least 20 home runs and 78 RBI each of the past three seasons. His career year came in 2009 when he hit .300, slugged .539, hit 28 home runs, 103 RBI and had a .369 on-base percentage.
He won’t be the most versatile player the Red Sox could acquire, but if they needed him to play in the field he is OK in the outfield. He’s nothing worth writing home about defensively, but he can be adequate.
Kubel also can be had at a reasonable price, at least by the standards of the Red Sox, and at 29 years old he still has many good years ahead of him (especially if he were in the Red Sox' talented lineup).