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Ortiz decides to accept arbitration

By Peter Abraham
Globe Staff / December 8, 2011
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DALLAS - David Ortiz will return to the Red Sox in 2012, deciding last night to accept salary arbitration and the guarantee of a one-year deal.

It is not a perfect solution for either side. The free agent designated hitter preferred the security of a multiyear contract, while the Red Sox wanted to bring him back at a smaller salary than the approximately $14 million he could command via arbitration.

But the overriding issue was that Ortiz wanted to return and the Sox wanted him back for a 10th season.

The Sox have been trying to hammer out a two-year deal with Ortiz. But the slugger sought $25 million over that period, and the team’s offer was significantly short of that, according to sources involved in the process.

Negotiations can continue, although indications last night were that Ortiz is content with a one-year contract at a significant raise from the $12.5 million he made last season. If the sides cannot agree on a salary, an arbitration panel will decide the matter in February.

The Sox have not had to take that step with a player since 2002.

Ortiz, who turned 36 last month, hit .309 with 40 doubles, 29 home runs, and 96 RBIs last season. He was the most productive DH in the game and stayed healthy, playing in 146 games.

Ortiz was an All-Star, earned the Silver Slugger, and yesterday won the Edgar Martinez Outstanding DH Award for the sixth time. Ortiz is fifth in team history with 320 home runs and sixth with 1,028 RBIs.

But for all his accomplishments, there was a limited market for Ortiz. As a Type A free agent, any team that signed him would have forfeited a draft pick to the Sox as compensation. Ortiz’s age and lack of versatility also diminished his value.

The Yankees long have been seen as possible suitors for Ortiz because of his lefthanded swing, tailored for Yankee Stadium’s short right-field porch. But general manager Brian Cashman focused his attention on other needs.

The Sox pushed Ortiz to the back burner during their lengthy search for a new manager, aggravating the slugger. But those concerns vanished over the weekend when new manager Bobby Valentine visited Ortiz in the Dominican Republic and passed on the message that the Sox wanted him back.

Ortiz was flattered by the gesture and soon saw the merit of accepting arbitration.

“That speaks to me,’’ Ortiz said after meeting with Valentine. “I’m impressed. That’s good stuff.’’

Several teams now view DH as a spot best used to give position players a break from playing the field. Others use low-cost veterans. But the Sox value the idea of Ortiz being in the middle of their lineup.

“I think it’s all a matter of how good that traditional, thumping DH is,’’ general manager Ben Cherington said earlier this week. “If he’s putting up the kind of numbers that David has, that’s a good solution.

“If it’s less than that, then there’s some advantage to handling that a different way. I think it just depends on how good the hitter is.’’

For the Red Sox, Ortiz fit that definition. The only downside will be whether his salary for 2012 cuts into Cherington’s ability to improve the roster in other areas.

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

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