Solving the David Ortiz Saga: Could It Work Itself Out?

E ASenior Analyst IJune 8, 2009

ANAHEIM, CA - MAY 14:  David Ortiz #34 of the Boston Red Sox walks in the dugout after grounding out for the final out with the bases loaded in the 12th inning against  the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim on May 14, 2009 at Angel Stadium in Anaheim, California.  The Angels won 5-4 in 12 innings.   (Photo by Stephen Dunn/Getty Images)

With a great depth in the pitching department, many have speculated some arms will be moved this summer. With a great weakness offensively, many have speculated the Red Sox will be looking to trade their young arms for a big bat.

J.D. Drew is hitting at a clip of .261 with eight home runs on the season. Not bad at all, but despite the absurd contract handed to him, none of the Fenway Faithful expected "Nancy" Drew to do any better.

At least he hasn't hit the disabled list. Yet.

After getting off to a respectable start at the dish following his return from arthroscopic knee surgery during the offseason, Julio Lugo is now hitting a mere .256. He stole 33 bases in 2007. Now he can't even do that right.

Lugo's terrible defense has been tougher to watch than previous years, primarily because of the absence of Alex Cora. Now with resident utility infielder Nick Green and his poor defensive skills nesting in the backup role, the Red Sox are left juggling playing time between two rather inept players.

Green had a hot start at the plate as well, but as everyone expected, it didn't hold up. He's now hitting a respectable .271, but still around .030 points lower than he was when he had shortstop all to himself.

And of course, we have the prolific struggles of designated hitter and Boston cult hero David Ortiz. The same Ortiz who set a Red Sox record with 54 home runs back in 2006, now finds himself with only a pair of dingers as we move onward through the month of June.

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The power outage for Ortiz would be tolerable if he were at least making contact with the ball. That, however, isn't the case. In 51 games, Ortiz is hitting just .197 with the aforementioned pair of home runs.

Only with this kind of slump would you see Red Sox fans acting as if it was Oct. 2004 all over again when Ortiz performed a once routine—now superhuman task.

There are many hypotheses on what's up with Ortiz.

In a story I found very hard to disagree with, Bill Simmons writes for ESPN The Magazine that David Ortiz is done.

"At first, we Sox fans thought we were just watching an early-season slump. Then three weeks passed and we started worrying. The guy couldn't hit the ball out of the infield. His bat was so slow he had to cheat on fastballs; even then, he couldn't catch up. One swing a night made him look like the drunkest batter in a beer league softball game. Look, I've seen slumps. This was different. This was the collapse of a career.

But one thing nagged at me: He wasn't belting bombs that were dying at the warning track like so many other former 'roiders. He just looked old. It reminded me of watching Jim Rice fall apart in the late '80s, when he lost bat speed overnight the way you and I lose a BlackBerry.

That's what happens to beefy sluggers on their way out: Their knees go, they stiffen up, bat speed slows and, in the blink of an eye, they're done. Beefy sluggers are like porn stars, wrestlers, NBA centers and trophy wives: When it goes, it goes. You know right away."

However, some also like to cite Ortiz's current six-game hitting streak and say that he's starting to come around. During this streak, which started in Toronto on May 31, Ortiz is hitting .280, slugging .480, with seven hits, one home run, and four RBI.

The Red Sox are 4-2 in these games.

Looking at at-bats from this previous week, Ortiz's supporters say—with merit—that he has been hitting the ball hard with nothing to show for it. That is in fact true. However, the balls he hit just happened to be right at opposing fielders.

With Ortiz appearing to warm up at the plate, there are mainly two differing points of view a fan could look at this situation from:

  • They can look at Ortiz' overall stats to find a .197 batting average, two home runs, a .288 OBP, and a .308 slugging percentage, and come to the conclusion that Big Papi truly is done, and that his occasional, here-and-there home runs are nothing more than a tease, giving more false hope to seemingly deluded fans.
  • They can look at Ortiz' numbers and film from the last week compared to the whole season, and see that Ortiz is slowly but surely picking up bat speed, making better contact, and getting a little bit of his power back and predict a decent (or extreme) comeback during the second half of the season.

For those who think that Ortiz really is done, there has been a call for the Red Sox to trade for an impact bat as we near MLB's non-waiver trading deadline.

The names Hanley Ramirez, Adam Dunn, Adrian Gonzalez, Josh Willingham, Nick Johnson, Victor Martinez, and Matt LaPorta are just a few to have popped up. The majority of players on that list, however, do not seem to be realistic options.

Despite many salivating over the possibility of bringing Hanley Ramirez back to town, or the league leader in home runs in Adrian Gonzalez, neither of those two star players seemingly have a remote chance of being traded in the near future.

With the Indians still confused on whether to be buyers or sellers at the upcoming trade deadline, the prospect of acquiring Martinez at this point seems bleak. LaPorta is a future cornerstone of their offense, and seems as likely to be brought in as Ramirez.

While it would definitely be a nice luxury for the Red Sox to bring in a big bat to shore up the floundering bottom portion of the lineup, it is important not to rush a decision on a trade as this is a very delicate matter for the Red Sox.

While bringing in a hitter of any value to the Red Sox will surely cost the team a top pitching prospect (Bowden, Bard, Masterson, Buchholz, etc), the Red Sox need to be absolutely sure they are making the right decision.

Every one of the aforementioned pitchers has a very high ceiling, and potentially a bright future with the Red Sox. Especially Bard, who lights up the radar gun night-in and night-out with his high-90s, low-100s mile per hour heat.

For the Red Sox, some of the offensive problems can work themselves out, and thus a trade for an impact hitter would not be necessary.

Take for example Drew, who is easily capable of hitting .275 over the course of a season. If he manages to stay off the disabled list, he will have as close a season to earning his contract as he will in his Red Sox career.

When Jed Lowrie comes back from his wrist injury, he should be the stopgap at shortstop. His defense is better than Lugo and Green could hope to combine for in their dreams, and he is capable of hitting in a .270-.280 range as well.

And of course, we can't forget the prolific struggles of David Ortiz. History, however, shows that it is not unprecedented for big lefties with lost bat speed to break out of long slumps.

Remember that guy from the Mets, Carlos Delgado? Of course you do. Through Jun. 8 of last year, Delgado was hitting .245 with eight home runs. Nothing compared to Ortiz's current slump, I know, but Delgado's final numbers for 2008: .271, 38 home runs, 115 RBI.

I'm not using this to suggest that Ortiz can or will break out of his slump, but Delgado's situation last year was so similar to Ortiz that it wouldn't be out of the question for Papi to turn it around.

Maybe not as dramatically as hitting 30 home runs over the course of three and a half months, but right now Ortiz is starting to regain some bat speed. At this time last year, so was Delgado.

All I'm saying is that if Ortiz really isn't done like all of us want to believe, then look for him to start catching up to fastballs, and start driving more balls out of the park in the coming weeks.

If the Ortiz we all know and love is gone for good, then it was a hell of a run, but baseball is a business and Theo Epstein will have to continue to pursue a bat to replace him in the lineup.

The one factor among all the chaos is time. There is plenty of baseball to be played between now and the trade deadline. Plenty of baseball to be played between now and the end of the season.

As the Red Sox look to acquire a new power hitter to replace Ortiz, it is imperative to give the situation time to rectify itself and not to rush a decision. After all, a poor decision could one day come back to bite us.

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