So, who’s untouchable?
Jonathan Papelbon, certainly. Same for Dustin Pedroia and Josh Beckett. Most likely, Jon Lester.
Hmm. Seem to be missing somebody.
It’s going to be classified as an overreaction by many still stinging from a Game 7 ALCS loss to the Rays, but as Theo Epstein and the Red Sox brass try to build for 2009 and beyond, the most daring, yet proactive, option they will have to at least discuss is what to do about their designated hitter.
And do you dare try to trade David Ortiz?
Allow yourself to forget about the past, an inherent must in looking to the future. Put aside the memories, the plaque honoring him as the Greatest Clutch Hitter in Red Sox History. Forget about 2004, the 54-home run season, and the constant reflections of "He did it again," and rewind to your most recent memories of Ortiz, a 2008 season that was subpar by his lofty standards, indeed, and a postseason that gave a quick glimpse of his past in Game 5 of the ALCS, but little else.
Look at the Red Sox as being heartless, concerned about nothing else but putting the best team together on the field. Ortiz certainly fits into that equation, on one hand.
On the other, if the Red Sox do indeed make a push for Mark Teixeira, that leaves an awful crowded middle of the lineup with Ortiz, Mike Lowell, and Kevin Youkilis in the mix as well, and only three positions to play all four.
Youkilis would obviously be the most attractive trade value for other teams, making only $3 million, at an age of 29. But dealing Youkilis makes little sense for Boston because of those reasons. Lowell is coming off labrum surgery, which is going to make teams queasy about dealing for a player who will be 35 years old with $24 million remaining on his contract.
With Ortiz, certainly there is an injury concern as well. The wrist appeared to remain an issue right through October, and there’s always the fear that the knee is going to act up again at some point down the road. Still, his home runs have decreased each of the last three seasons, from 54 to 35 to 23 in ’08, when his OPS (.896) slipped below 1.000 for the first time since 2004.
Maybe Ortiz will arrive in Florida come February healthy, in shape, and ready to go. Whether it’s with the Red Sox or not isn’t even a topic for discussion.
Should it be?
If Ortiz were the same player he was even a season removed, this wouldn’t be up for debate. But with injuries piling on, he's at an age (he’ll be 33 next season) when players other than Barry Bonds don’t exactly see a spike in productivity. At Baseball Reference, the top two batters whom Ortiz is most comparable to at his age are Carlos Delgado, who just hit 38 home runs at age 36, and Mo Vaughn, who had his final somewhat productive season at age 34.
Too bad Ortiz can’t field, which is part of the overall problem. If Jason Varitek is on his way out the door, and the Dodgers' Frank McCourt loses Manny Ramirez, you can imagine that he’d be willing to work a deal for the likes of Russell Martin – a 25-year-old catcher who’s already among the best in the game - and a mid-level reliever for another Boston player to fill the voids left by Ramirez and fellow free agent and former Bostonian Derek Lowe. But that’s part of what makes this a non-reality, Ortiz’s market is limited to the AL by his inability to play the field, and further squeezed by his 10-5 trade rights.
Still, based on what we know of these Red Sox at the tail end of the season, which would you predict as a better heart of the lineup going forward not just for 2009, but 2010?
Youkilis to third, Teixeira to first, with Lowell as the DH, a three-way rotation that ensures one of the three Gold Glovers the non-fielding role periodically.
From a fan perspective, you also have to wonder if trading Ortiz isn’t the best move. If his best years are indeed behind him, dealing him now avoids the risk of a love affair ending at Fenway Park between player and nation. Ortiz is the quite possibly the most beloved player in Red Sox history, yet watching him fade into his mid-to-late 30’s could put a strain on that relationship. Bill Mueller can walk into any bar and get a Harpoon bought for him immediately. Keith Foulke would have a harder time. And forget about getting a Whopper without some wise guy altering its contents in the kitchen.
Are you a better team by dumping cash into a premium free agent and trading your renowned slugger for other pieces you need? For ’09, maybe. For ’10, ’11, etc., the answer, most likely, is yes.
That is why you discuss it at the very least, leaving out the memories that he brought to the table so many times. Greatest Clutch Hitter in the history of the franchise.
The plaque will remain. Will David Ortiz? Most definitely.
But the fact that we even wonder if the team would be better off without him says something to the concern that his best days have passed him by.