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Ortiz can settle back in

He finds middle ground with Red Sox for one year, $14.5 million

By Nick Cafardo
February 14, 2012
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ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. - David Ortiz seemed happy as he left the Vinoy Renaissance Hotel yesterday without speaking to the media after he settled his salary dispute with the Red Sox before an arbitration hearing for $14.575 million.

He received close to a $2 million raise from the $12.65 million ($12.5 million salary and $150,000 in bonuses) he earned last season, one in which the designated hitter hit .309 with 29 home runs and 96 RBIs.

He didn’t get the $16.5 million or the two-year deal he wanted, but the Sox still had to fork over a raise. The best word heard yesterday was it’s over.

“I feel happy since I avoided going to arbitration,’’ he told the Associated Press. “People are used to seeing me with the Red Sox uniform and when you have so much time in one organization, and you’re identified with it, the best thing is to stay, even if it is for $1 or $2 million less.’’

Why the midpoint couldn’t have been reached earlier, which would have avoided expensive outside arbitration firms to prepare their respective cases, had both sides shrugging their shoulders.

“There’s a process and we followed the process,’’ Ortiz’s agent, Fernando Cuza said. “Both sides are happy. We were able to sit down and work it out and we feel that’s the best thing.’’

Asked about trying to get a two-year agreement, Cuza said, “There’s no other comments. We felt very strong about our case and they obviously about theirs, and there’s always risk in going.’’

Both sides had compelling cases. Win or lose it would have been the largest arbitration salary ever awarded. In many respects, there would be no losers, except for the negativity stemming from the hearing. And that’s vastly overrated.

You often hear how the player could have his feelings hurt, but so what? He asked for the process by accepting arbitration. It’s not often a player of Ortiz’s service time accepts this process, but he did so in this correspondent’s opinion for two reasons: Ortiz wants to finish his career in Boston and who but the Red Sox would have paid him even what he earned last season on a one-year deal?

The Sox were very confident in their case and Cuza had the same feeling about Ortiz, but both sides were afraid to go through with it. The Sox would have argued that Ortiz’s production should be compared with designated hitters. Ortiz would have argued, and rightly so, he was at least close to the production of first basemen Miguel Cabrera, Prince Fielder, and Albert Pujols. Not $23 million worth per season, but $16.5 million, or one dollar above the $14.575 midpoint? He could have made that case.

“It took all winter to get here, yeah, once we were here in the same place there was interest by both sides to settle it,’’ Sox general manager Ben Cherington said. “We started talking [Sunday] and we got it done [yesterday]. We feel we wanted David on the team, made that clear until the end of the season the only question was how much he’d make this year. As we got closer, avoiding the hearing was a right thing to do and I’m glad he felt the same way.’’

When asked if there was any multiyear chatter, Cherington said, “It was really focused on a one-year settlement.’’

In other words, of course there was talk beyond one year.

“I think whenever you stare at a case for this long and you prepare, you feel good about your arguments,’’ Cherington said. “But so does the other side. Given who it was, we felt there was some value in avoiding an issue.’’

The sides settled because losing this one would not have made the other side look good. The Sox didn’t offer a raise. Really? The three-man arbitration panel could have looked past the midpoint between Ortiz’s number and the Red Sox and decided it was unfair not to offer a player who had a very good season a raise. On the other hand, Ortiz’s arbitration number might have been too high.

The Sox have one of their centerpiece hitters back, surely at more money than they wanted to pay, but cost certainty nonetheless. Cherington said Ortiz’s raise will not hinder future moves.

Cherington said he doesn’t anticipate major changes in the roster by the time pitchers and catchers report later this week. As for Ortiz, he’s earning the highest annual salary of his career at age 36.

Although Ortiz would have had problems finding a suitor, the Sox would have been hard-pressed to find a replacement for him. Also, Ortiz is one of the most popular Sox players among fans. He’s an ambassador for the team in many respects, always very public.

Latino players see him as one of their heroes, which is why the team should consider keeping him in the organization as a liaison for Dominican players.

That’s why Cherington said “because of who he is’’ when indicating why it was important not to fight Ortiz.

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

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