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Right now, Ortiz has a bright future

By Nick Cafardo
Globe Staff / July 12, 2011

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PHOENIX - The All-Star Game is always a good time for stories about David Ortiz’s future with the Red Sox.

And they won’t end here.

If Ortiz continues to have a good season, there will be more stories, columns, and opinions on what the Sox should do with the lovable designated hitter.

The obvious answer would be to keep renewing him at his current salary, a perpetual contract every year until he finally reaches the end of the line. That’s what I believe the Sox will do. Ortiz is too much of a factor to be discarded or to have his salary cut drastically. He’s producing numbers worthy of the $12 million a year he is making in 2011. Plus, he’s one of the more beloved players in baseball. If you’re Major League Baseball and you want to appeal to a Latin demographic, Ortiz should be your man.

Another option would be for the Sox to give him a take-it-or-leave it scenario in which they offer him a pay cut and explain that DH salaries aren’t what they used to be.

A third option would be extend him beyond a year, and if it doesn’t work out, it’s a Papi parting gift for time well-served with the Sox, with whom he became a force as a major leaguer.

Of course, he also could hit fifth for the Yankees next season.

“What can I tell you?’’ Ortiz said. “I haven’t heard anything about my future. I’m not worried about it. You worry about it when things aren’t going the way you want them to go. In that case that’s not my problem right now. I’m doing what I’m supposed to do. So, we’ll see.’’

Keep that answer on rewind, David. You may be giving it a lot in the next couple of months. Jonathan Papelbon likely will go through a similar situation as well.

Not that it’s painful to have to answer a few questions; that stuff is overrated. A distraction? Not now. Ortiz has been around too long and gone through this before. He knows the game. He knows he’s reached that age (35), and he even admitted it yesterday, at which teams don’t view players the same way they did just a couple of years before. There’s too much data out there that shows players can fall off the map without warning when they reach a certain age.

“I’m gonna turn 36. That’s the worst thing [age] that could happen to me now and the next two or three years,’’ he said.

Ortiz seems to have the blessing of owner John Henry, who has been a strong advocate for him in his later seasons. It would be a lie if any Sox official came out and said they never thought about letting Ortiz go. Of course they thought about it. They thought long and hard about it, when he was struggling last April and then last offseason when they debated the possibility of reducing his salary rather than picking up the option.

The Sox, who spend a lot of money, can afford to do the right thing and pick up the option.

And you shouldn’t be shocked if Ortiz makes the same salary next season because it’s really hard to cut the pay of the player who may go down as the greatest DH ever.

But as of now, Ortiz said he has not heard a peep about his future from the Red Sox. This is not unusual. The Sox have the resources to outbid anyone who may enter the picture, and it appears there may be teams this time around who would feel comfortable offering a two-year deal for the slugger.

So is Ortiz primed for discussions at the end of the year?

“I hope,’’ he said.

And he’s also hoping it’s for more than one year.

“Oh yeah, I have more in the tank. I have more than that,’’ he said.

Ortiz described the grueling workouts he had during the offseason, mostly with Toronto star Jose Bautista, who worked out so much and so hard that “you think he was going to play football,’’ said Ortiz. He has bought into the notion that the older you get, the harder you have to work to stay in shape. And so he has taken things very seriously.

He’s hitting .340 vs. lefties, and .304 overall with a .965 OPS, which is his best since 2007. Only six other players in baseball have a higher OPS. When your OPS is that high, you make money in major league baseball, no matter how old you are.

Still, some teammates are skeptical about Ortiz’s return.

“It’s definitely a possibility David might not be back,’’ All-Star third baseman Kevin Youkilis said. “It’s one of those things, it’s tough. It would be tough not to have David because of his presence in the lineup and his overall personality and the way he is. I’ve always had a pretty good relationship with David. It would be a sad day and I think the fans would be pretty sad, too. For all of us, we understand it’s a business. You have to realize that things happen and transactions happen. You hope for the best but sometimes it doesn’t work out that way.’’

Recently, DH has been that spot in the order in which many teams rest and rotate players. But Ortiz proves that if you have a great hitter, why not keep him there full time?

“There aren’t many people, who if they’re watching a pitcher or a hitter hit, would rather watch the pitcher,’’ Ortiz said. “Injuries, man. The pitcher can get hurt. A swing or running down trying to beat out a ball. Last year we had Buch [Clay Buchholz] get hurt in a game at San Francisco. I know that going back in history there was no DH, but this is 2011, this isn’t 1920 anymore. Pitchers don’t get paid to hit, we get paid to hit. What I say is not gonna change anything. I guarantee having the DH is going to be more enjoyable for fans to watch me hitting than seeing [Jered] Weaver swing the bat.’’

That is true.

There aren’t many viable options at DH. The Sox would be hard-pressed to find anyone who can handle the duties better than Ortiz and who can produce at a .965 OPS clip.

Would he rather finish his career in Boston?

“Ah, probably. You know what I’m saying? That doesn’t depend on me,’’ he said.

But it might be up to Ortiz. If he does opt for free agency, he may have options, when last year he likely didn’t.

The Yankees, Angels, Mariners, and Rays are among the teams who could have interest in a big, powerful lefthanded bat.

There’s not much Ortiz can do to convince the Sox to give him a two-year deal. If they want to draw the line, he may call their bluff.

“I’ve been in this organization for nine years,’’ Ortiz said. “My numbers ain’t that bad. I don’t think I need to open any more eyes than what I have already.’’

Nick Cafardo can be reached at cafardo@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @nickcafardo.

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