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What does the future hold for David Ortiz?

Posted by Peter Abraham, Globe Staff  June 14, 2011 01:27 PM

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TAMPA David Ortiz is hitting .358/.409/.755 since May 1 with 32 RBIs. He's not just the best DH in the American League, he's one of the best hitters regardless of position.

Ortiz is hitting the ball to left field much like he did earlier in his career with the Red Sox. After two years of pulling the ball into a shift, he has willed himself to swing at better pitches and let the ball get deeper before he unleashes what remains a fearsome swing.

"He looks like he did in 2006," Terry Francona said the other day.

It's amazing that Ortiz appeared finished as a player only 14 months ago and there was widespread speculation that the Red Sox would release him. He recovered and had a solid season. That led to the Sox picking up their $12.5 million option on Ortiz last fall.

Come the end of this season, he will be a free agent.

A lot of readers have asked whether the Red Sox should try and sign him before it gets to that point. I'd say no, and here is why:

Ortiz is 35. Why sign him now and risk some sort of long-term injury occurring in the coming months? Better to let the season play out and assess the situation then.

Ortiz wants to stay in Boston. Even if he becomes a free agent, he's not going to snap up the first good offer out there. He's Big Papi here, a local hero who knows everybody. His charitable (and commercial) endeavors succeed here more than they could anywhere else.

Who's to say he's going to keep up this pace all year? All the signs are positive. But you can also make a point that not having a contract is serving as motivation. No sense messing with what is working.

It's bad to do business during the season. If the Red Sox open negotiations now, it could become a distraction. Let's say David believes he's worth two years and $25 million and the Red Sox think he should get one year and $10. Why cause a rift now?

Let the market develop, at least a little, then make a deal. Designated hitters in their mid-30s were scrambling for contracts last winter. Vladimir Gurerrero, who had a big season for Texas in 2010, accepted one year and $8 million from Baltimore with $3 million deferred without interest. That's what good DHs are worth these days.

In the end, assuming David is healthy, there will be a deal to be made. Maybe one year for $12.5 million again with some sort of vesting option for 2012.

What do you think? Pay Papi now or pay him later?

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