It' s time to end Big Papi's legendary era with the Boston Red Sox.
I've loved rooting for David Ortiz, and, to this day, I find myself trying to convince other Sox fans that Ortiz was, by far, most responsible for winning that once-in-a lifetime 2004 ALCS series vs the New York Yankees. Yeah, people credit Papi, but not enough in my mind. I'll never forget sitting in Fenway Park for that marathon Game 5 vs. the Yanks, when Big Papi won it with a bloop single to center field.
When the Sox were down 0-3 vs. the Bombers, Ortiz won two games in a row with walk-off, game-winning hits. His heroics took the series back to New York, reversed the momentum and led to THE best, most amazing feat I've seen in sports history — the Red Sox coming back to overtake the dreaded Yanks.
In 2003, Ortiz had already established himself as the team's most unique clutch hitter since Yaz in 1967. Big Papi continued that with a vengeance in 2005 and 2006, coming through time after time in the late innings to win ball games.
But.....then he got a few injuries over those next few years. He experienced awful starts in 2009 and 2010. Yes, he got it going in both those years, and ended with good numbers, but, he didn't look the same at the plate. He looked like he was starting to fade a bit. He was hitting a lot of "mistake" pitches and was unable to hit breaking stuff as well as in the past.
Now, I admit, I was blown away by how well Ortiz hit the ball in 2011. He somehow rediscovered his capacity to hit the ball to left field. He hit a ton of doubles. He seemed to hit for contact a bit better again — as if his eyesight had improved from 2010 to 2011.
I would argue, however, that Big Papi got considerably more good pitches to hit in 2011 because of the the hot hitting of Jacoby Ellsbury, Dustin Pedroia and Adrian Gonzalez in front of him — especially in the first half of the season. He often came up with men on base and pitchers feeling pressured to throw a strike or two in order to avoid a walk.
Ortiz is about to turn 36 years old — an age that most often marks either the start of a real decline or the continued downward spiral in a player's hitting skill set. Do people really believe he can repeat what he did in 2011? Maybe he can, but the odds and baseball statistics don't back that up. He's more likely to fade some more. Pitchers will find more ways to get him out. He'll wear down at the end of the season — as he did in 2011. (He dropped off badly in September, 2011 along with many teammates.)
I think one can make an argument for bringing Ortiz back for just one more year. I disagree with it, but, I can understand — based on last year's performance — giving him one more shot. I absolutely oppose even thinking about anything beyond one year for Ortiz. It just makes no sense.
Ortiz has been well overpaid for the past couple of years. He's been lucky to earn more than $12 million a year. The Red Sox cannot justify continuing to do that — not with his skills so likely to fade along with his limited contributions and other concerns.
The "other concerns" include questions about Ortiz's attitude. He seems to have become a bit too focused on himself and a little less focused on the team in the past year or two. I'm very tired of all his complaining about balls and strikes. I didn't like it at all when he broke into former manager Terry Francona's 2011 press conference to complain about how the official scorer took a "hit" away from him.
I haven't liked most (almost any) of his comments since the 2011 season ended. First, when asked about Francona's departure, he volunteered almost nothing positive to say about Francona, his manager who went out of his way to support Ortiz during his horrendous starts in 2009 and 2010, AND even after information surfaced in 2009 revealing that Ortiz had tested positive for performance-enhancing drugs. The 2003 test revealed many players were allegedly on the juice, including Ortiz's teammate Manny Ramirez.
Instead of displaying loyalty to Francona, Ortiz was busy making off-the-cuff remarks about his doubts if he wanted to remain on the Red Sox because there was "too much drama" here. Then, Ortiz remarked that he'd be interested in considering playing for the Yankees (He later tried to take that back).
Asked about the clubhouse problems in 2011, Ortiz said he couldn't be a "babysitter" to his teammates and seemed to minimize any leadership role he ever played. He offered no words that shed light on the team's disastrous collapse or how any parts of it might have been prevented.
Then, there is one last thing I've grown really tired of with Ortiz, and that is that he almost never hustles down to first base on any ground ball. He literally stops running. We've all sort of "put up" with that from Big Papi for years because of all his heroics, but, it's inexcusable. He's also just a horrible baserunner because he's so slow.
I write this article after reading that Ortiz, who officially becomes a free agent this week, is apparently seeking a three-year deal from the Red Sox or another team. You've got to be kidding me! Ortiz and his agent have a lot of nerve asking for three years. Ortiz has been paid MUCH more than any designated hitter in baseball for the past few years. He earned some of that with his production, but was lucky to get overpaid.
As much as I love Ortiz, I feel now is a natural moment for his exit. The Red Sox are at a clear "turning point." They need to make big changes. They must say goodbye to Tim Wakefield and Jason Varitek, among others. It seems a good time to say goodbye to Ortiz. Yeah, he might be able to put up decent numbers in 2012 — but he might not too. And since he clearly is headed downhill after 2012, why not cut ties now?
Ortiz has an extraordinarily unique role in Red Sox history. He should go out while he's still on top as a player rather than lingering in a diminished role.