Will Red Sox Plans Include David Ortiz
When he is healthy, David Ortiz is hands down the best designated hitter in the game. Even at 36, the left-handed slugger is one of the most potent run-producing bats in Major League Baseball.
As it is with many players who reach their late 30s, remaining healthy has been a challenge for Ortiz this season. He has played in one game since July 16, when he injured his Achilles tendon while rounding the bases during a teammate’s home run. The same ailing Achilles tendon landed him back on the 15-day disabled list last Monday, and it is uncertain if he will return this season.
Ortiz, who will be 37 in November, was in the midst of another monstrous year before he suffered the Achilles tendon injury. In 383 plate appearances, he has a .318 average, a 1.026 OPS, 23 home runs, 60 RBI and 26 doubles. The OPS – which measures on-base percentage plus slugging percentage – was its highest since 2007 when he logged a 1.066 mark.
Deciding on whether or not to retain Ortiz is the most prominent issue that will confront Red Sox general manager Ben Cherington this off-season.
Ortiz is still one of the most productive sluggers in baseball, so it would be difficult to find another hitter who could step into the DH spot and not weaken the Red Sox lineup. Yet, at 37 next season and recovering from an Achilles tendon injury, Ortiz poses a risk to a club looking to be more responsible with its free agent signings and acquisitions in the wake of deals that did not work out as anticipated with Adrian Gonzalez, Carl Crawford, Josh Beckett, John Lackey and Daisuke Matsuzaka.
Demonstrated by the recent blockbuster trade that saw them deal Gonzalez, Beckett, Crawford and Nick Punto – and the $272 million in contracts that accompanied those players – the Red Sox have vowed to show discipline when making moves for 2013 and the long-term future.
Their financial commitments to Gonzalez, Crawford and Beckett are gone. Matsuzaka will be a free agent at season’s end leaving the $30.5 million owed to Lackey over the next two seasons as the lone bad contract remaining in Boston.
After the trade with Los Angeles, the Red Sox only have $42.938 million in payroll commitments for next season, so Cherington has money and flexibility when the Hot Stove League arrives. Learning from the poor choices made by his predecessor Theo Epstein, Cherington will undoubtedly exercise more caution with free agent deals.
Boston’s front office has already indicated that it will build for the present and the future through trades for impact players who are under team control (and not near free agency) but getting too expensive for their current clubs. Cleveland’s Shin-Soo Choo and Arizona’s Justin Upton are prime examples. This approach could lead the Red Sox to not bring back Ortiz, who reluctantly accepted Boston’s arbitration offer and signed a one-year, $14.575 million last off-season.
The Orioles, Blue Jays and Rangers are teams that could be willing to extend a multi-year offer to Ortiz if the Red Sox pass. Aside from Ortiz, the free agent DH pool includes unappealing names like Jim Thome, Raul Ibanez, Luke Scott, Bobby Abreu, Johnny Damon and Travis Hafner. Because of those slim pickings, and the money they suddenly have available, it would seemingly make sense for the Red Sox to give Ortiz an offer in the vicinity of two years and $25 million to $30 million. That contract would not be an albatross on Boston’s payroll, even if Ortiz does not produce his typical numbers.
An option that could lead Boston to put an end to the Ortiz era is Joe Mauer. The 29-year-old Mauer, who has a $23 million annual salary through 2018, recently cleared waivers with the Twins. Though he doesn’t offer the same power numbers as Ortiz, Mauer is one of the game’s better hitters, and he is a plus defensive catcher who can also split time at first base and DH.
The Red Sox could acquire Mauer from the Twins, sign Nick Swisher (who can play first base and right field) and ink outfielder Cody Ross to an extension). Boston already has 25-year-old Ryan Lavarnway poised to make the 2013 opening day roster at catcher. The Sox could keep Mauer, Lavarnway and a third catcher, Jarrod Saltalamacchia, because of Mauer’s versatility and a vacant DH spot.
Of course, Mauer would require a lengthy and expensive contract commitment that the Red Sox might not prefer to reenter after ridding themselves of the $20 million plus annual salaries of Gonzalez and Crawford. Acquiring Mauer would also dip into Boston’s stash of top prospects, which now includes pitchers Rubby De La Rosa and Allen Webster, brought in from the Dodgers.
Chances are, the Red Sox would rather unload a package of prospects for an ace like Seattle’s Felix Hernandez instead of Mauer, and bring back Ortiz so he could productively fill the DH spot and retire with a team with which he has been an instrumental part of two World Series titles.
For 10 years, Ortiz has worn a Red Sox uniform, provided a plethora of clutch hits and emerged as one of the most beloved players in Boston’s rich and storied history. If he completed the 2012 season without injuries, likely his return would be easy to forecast. Because of his ailing Achilles tendon, and the organization’s focus on building a World Series contender for 2013 and the long term, Ortiz might have played his last game with the Red Sox. He will be one of the most interesting storylines in what will be an active off-season in Boston.