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The Red Sox celebrated the return of David Ortiz Monday, throwing a catered afternoon news conference at Fenway Park to announce his new contract.
Eight-year-old D’Angelo Ortiz wore a tie for the occasion and his father broke out his 2004 World Series ring, the diamonds glittering in the television lights.
“Today is a good day for everybody,” Big Papi said.
The atmosphere stood in sharp contrast to the previous two seasons when Ortiz’s contract status was a touchy subject.
The Red Sox picked up Ortiz’s one-year option for 2011, electing not to negotiate a new contract. The sides were minutes away from an arbitration hearing last season when they agreed on another one-year deal.
Ortiz was paid well on both occasions, but he wondered aloud why he wasn’t being accorded the same security as players who had not accomplished a fraction of what he had in Boston.
Now he has satisfaction in the form of a two-year contract that could be worth as much as $30 million.
That Ortiz would stay with the Red Sox was never really in doubt. What changed was his leverage.
Once the Red Sox traded Josh Becket, Carl Crawford, and Adrian Gonzalez to the Dodgers in August, retaining Ortiz became more of a priority. As the Sox rebuild after a 93-loss season, he represents a connection to their past, a drawing card for fans and a solid piece in the middle of the lineup.
General manager Ben Cherington and team president Larry Lucchino met with Ortiz during the final series of the season in New York. It was the start of a relatively uneventful process.
“They approached me really well. Our negotiations this year were easier than ever. They knew what they were looking for,” Ortiz said. “It wasn’t even a going back-and-forth type of situation. It was pretty much this is it and I agreed with it.”
The Red Sox are taking a risk. Ortiz turns 37 later this month and spent the final 11 weeks of last season on the disabled list because of a strained right Achilles’ tendon.
But Ortiz also hit .318 with a 1.026 OPS last season and remains the best designated hitter in the game. In 10 seasons with the Sox, his 343 home runs are fifth in franchise history.
“I think there’s some real benefit in committing to a two-year deal in this case because we are trying to build something and we want David to be a part of it,” Cherington said. “We don’t need to have that conversation again at the end of next year.”
The contract almost guarantees that Ortiz will finish his career with the Red Sox. But he’s not thinking of retirement quite yet.
“I’m from the Dominican, so I might be 30 next year, you never know,” he said with a smile.
The Achilles’ injury did give the Red Sox pause and that was reflected in how his contract was constructed.
Ortiz received a $1 million signing bonus and a base salary of $14 million for 2013. His salary for 2014 is $11 million and can expand to $15 million if Ortiz spends fewer than 20 days on the disabled list in 2013 because of the Achilles’ injury.
“My focus is to provide what this organization expects from me the next couple of years,” Ortiz said. “I’m a person, I like to get prepared for a challenge. I know I’m a force in this organization and on this ball club.
“It’s good. I’m moving forward pretty good. I’ve already started doing leg exercises and stuff. I’m feeling good.”
Cherington said the Red Sox are comfortable with Ortiz’s health.
“As with any player you’ve got to get to the bottom of the health and figure out what sort of risk is involved there,” he said. “Our benefit is that we know David so well.
“No. 1, we know how hard he’s going to work to put himself in the best position to play. And since we’ve worked with him so much, we know what happened with the Achilles’ this year. We feel [there are] some things we can do proactively to help him. He’s feeling a lot better now. It’s not a concern moving forward any more than it would be for any player.”
There will be precautions. After speaking with Cherington and ownership, Ortiz is likely to skip the World Baseball Classic in March.
“That might be an interruption between the things they are planning to do for next season and being aware of being ready to go for the season,” Ortiz said. “Right now, that is on hold. We’ll see how things go. It seems like they don’t want me to be out there.”
Many American League teams have resisted the idea of investing heavily in designated hitters. They spread the at-bats out among several players or sign veterans at a low cost.
Ortiz, to a large degree, stands alone. But he does not doubt his value.
“There’s one thing I’m going to make clear right here: I get prepared to play. I like to see the pain on the opposition. I like to win,” he said.