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Day of decision arrives for Ortiz

David Ortiz (left) and new Red Sox manager Bobby Valentine got together recently in the Dominican Republic, but it remains to be seen whether they get together again. David Ortiz (left) and new Red Sox manager Bobby Valentine got together recently in the Dominican Republic, but it remains to be seen whether they get together again. (Chaz niell/Associated Press)
By Peter Abraham
Globe Staff / December 7, 2011
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DALLAS - All David Ortiz has to do is nod his head before midnight tonight and he is guaranteed via arbitration at least a one-year contract with the Red Sox with a raise from the $12.5 million he made last season. In the end, it could be north of $14 million.

It would be the most lucrative season of his long career and make him the best-paid designated hitter in baseball. Ortiz also would get his wish to continue playing in Boston.

It may sound like an easy decision. But Ortiz also puts value in long-term security and is hopeful the Red Sox will agree to a two-year contract.

The question, as always, is money. Ortiz would prefer $25 million over two years, but the Red Sox may provide such security only at a discount. If they can sign Ortiz to a contract worth $10 million a year, it would create some payroll flexibility to bolster the roster elsewhere.

“I can’t handicap it,’’ said general manager Ben Cherington yesterday when asked if a multiyear deal was possible. “We’ve talked to him about that. In theory, yeah, we’d like to have him on the team [beyond 2012]. We’ve expressed to him that if there’s a way to make it work, we’d like to have him.

“We’d like to have him on the team and potentially have him finish his career with the Red Sox. But we haven’t reached an agreement on a contract. We’ve had good dialogue and I think there’s a good understanding of the respective positions and a lot of mutual respect.

“If we don’t reach an agreement by [today] we’ll see what his decision is. If we don’t and he accepts [arbitration], then we’ll be happy with that outcome.’’

The sides agreed to continue talking last night. Ortiz’s agent, Fernando Cuza, refused comment. But a source close to Ortiz said the slugger was willing to accept arbitration if a long-term deal could not be worked out.

Ortiz would be taking a significant risk by declining arbitration because all the guarantees would vanish. The Red Sox would be free to offer Ortiz whatever they wanted and could use the limitations of the free agent market to squeeze him.

Ortiz is coming off a strong season in which he hit .309 with 29 home runs and 96 RBIs. But he is 36, cannot play the field beyond a few games, and is a Type A free agent, meaning that any team signing him would have to compensate the Red Sox with a draft pick.

Given those factors, it would be virtually impossible for Ortiz to get anything close to $12.5 million in 2012. He might not get that sum for two years.

There are teams interested in Ortiz, but none has been aggressive.

“The Red Sox did him a favor when they offered him arbitration,’’ one agent said.

Cherington does not disagree with that assessment.

“I think it’s a strong indication of our interest and our willingness to commit to him, potentially at a significant salary for next year,’’ he said.

Even if Ortiz accepts arbitration, he can continue negotiating for a multiyear deal. If the sides did go to a hearing before an arbitration panel, it would not be until February.

The Red Sox are not being remotely as accommodating with two other veteran free agents, righthander Tim Wakefield and catcher Jason Varitek.

Without coming right out and saying so, Cherington indicated they are not in the plans for next season.

“I have spoken to both and we’re not ready to commit to anything,’’ said Cherington. “I have spoken to both and plan to talk to them both again. Certainly we’ll do so before we make any final decision.

“I have a great deal of respect for both and feel like the best thing for the team and the best thing for them is, if there’s not a real role on the team, I’m not sure it’s fair. I’m not sure it’s the right thing for them or the team. But we haven’t even gotten to that point yet. I’ll talk to them again when we get closer to that.’’

Varitek hit .221 over 68 games last season. Wakefield was 7-8 with a 5.12 ERA over 33 games, 23 of them starts.

Wakefield is 45 and Varitek turns 40 in April. Both have said they want to return to Boston. But after consecutive third-place finishes, the Red Sox are not placing much value on sentiment.

With Ortiz, who was the most productive DH in the game last season, the parameters are much different. They want him back and he wants to come back. It’s likely just a matter of how it happens.

“He’s got a decision to make,’’ Cherington said. “We remain hopeful that he’s on the team in 2012. That’s been our position all along.’’

Peter Abraham can be reached at pabraham@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @PeteAbe.

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