David Ortiz is a Boston Red Sox legend and a primary reason the franchise broke the storied Curse of the Bambino with World Series titles in 2004, 2007 and 2013, but to hear Theo Epstein tell it, the slugger wanted out in 2003.
The Chicago Cubs president of baseball operations, who was the Red Sox general manager at the time, revealed Ortiz requested a trade in 2003 as he was battling for playing time with Shea Hillenbrand. The comments came when Epstein appeared on Executive Access, via MLB.com:
"David Ortiz hit all of two home runs in the first [two months] of the 2003 season and in mid-May had his agent come and ask me for a trade to somewhere he could play more regularly. Fernando Cuza came to talk to me and I told Cuza at the time that David was someone we wanted to get everyday at-bats, but we just needed to pare down the roster a little bit. We ended up trading Hillenbrand instead of David Ortiz, so I guess that was a good decision in hindsight. David got regular playing time and ended up hitting close to 30 homers in the second half of the season and was off and running as Big Papi."
While deciding between Ortiz and Hillenbrand seems like an easy choice in hindsight, Hillenbrand was an All-Star in 2002 with a .293/.330/.459 slash line, 18 home runs and 83 RBI. He hit at least 15 home runs in each of the next four seasons as well and was an All-Star again in 2005 as a member of the Toronto Blue Jays.
Epstein ultimately traded Hillenbrand to the Arizona Diamondbacks for Byung-Hyun Kim, who notched 16 saves for the Red Sox in 2003.
The key, though, was opening up consistent playing time for Ortiz, who signed a $1.25 million, non-guaranteed contract that January. The designated hitter and first baseman played with the Red Sox until he retired following the 2016 campaign. He became a 10-time All-Star and seven-time Silver Slugger, finishing his career with 541 home runs as an integral part of Boston's lineup.
His postseason prowess was also critical as Boston snapped a World Series drought that dated back to 1918. He was the 2004 American League Championship Series MVP in the dramatic seven-game victory over the archrival New York Yankees and captured the 2013 World Series MVP in the win over the St. Louis Cardinals.
Safe to say, Epstein made the right decision hanging on to Ortiz.