Re-signing David Ortiz was never the issue.
From a baseball standpoint, he makes sense. Despite going down with an Achilles’ heel injury last season, and despite whatever Bobby Valentine might have thought about the designated hitter’s commitment to his team, as if he were Randall “Pink” Floyd and had to sign a pledge sheet, Ortiz remained one of baseball’s most feared lefthanded hitters, and a necessary component if the Red Sox have any distant hope of competing in 2013.
From a marketing standpoint, he makes sense. Let’s not play dumb and ignore the fact that Ortiz remains a chip in that regard, and there’s no reason to argue his importance in that role, particularly for a team that has had a faster fall from grace than Scott Brown. The Red Sox need Ortiz on NESN, they need him on the cover of the yearbook, and they need his legacy to remain on the front-burner of the average fan’s mind.
That’s a big reason why Ortiz finally got his two-deal after recent seasons of playing on a one-year contract. It was Boston’s big massage for the fella, assuring he’s a happy soldier in this ownership’s most pivotal moment. Ortiz is the Red Sox’ Space Mountain, their most popular attraction in the amusement park once known as Fenway.
But it’s the way the Red Sox handled the Ortiz signing that should give fans pause about the way business is being handled on Yawkey Way. And that’s to say it seems like it hasn’t changed a bit.
In dishing out $26 million for Ortiz, the Red Sox bid only against themselves, despite the threat of the Texas Rangers’ interest – an agent ploy or not. Was a 37-year-old DH coming off an injury-shortened season in which he played in only 90 games going to find that much anywhere else on the open market? Please. Did the Red Sox bother to even find out? Nope. Too desperate for what he means for them from a public relations standpoint, the team felt the David Ortiz attraction was far too worth risking losing him to save, what, maybe $10 million that could have gone to, I don’t know…pitching? A shortstop? Cody Ross? A first baseman?
In refusing to allow Ortiz to test a free agent market that probably would have seen offers trickling in at best, Boston showed a skeptical base of fans what’s still most important – the brand. Ortiz will put them in the seats. He’ll sell bricks. He’s reason to tune in as a group of rookies and second-tier veterans potentially flounder in the AL East. He’s the link to a memorable past, but in no way is part of the future. He’s an important link. A ludicrously expensive $26 million link, but an important one.
There’s no argument here that the Red Sox need that in Ortiz from a business perspective, and certainly from a baseball one next season. In 2014? Come talk to me then. By that point Ortiz may be nothing more than a face, one making as much as $15 million.
Ortiz’s 2014 salary is $11 million, but can make the $15 million if he spends fewer than 20 days on the DL next season. If that heel is any way bothering him, you think he’s going to sacrifice $4 million? It might be admirable to play through the pain, but if we have another Dustin Pedroia thumb situation, where it’s clear that a DL stint is necessary, how much will that affect the team? That clause reeks to me of the Red Sox valuing Ortiz’s presence even more than they value his importance to winning. Darnell McDonald ain’t getting ’em through the gates, ya know.
Yes, the Sox have plenty to spend (thanks, Magic!), so maybe the Ortiz contract isn’t so ridiculous, but in case you haven’t noticed, the free agent market isn’t exactly bursting with talent, and names being mentioned on the trade market involve Justin Masterson and Shin-Soo Choo. From a baseball perspective, it is exactly what the Red Sox need to do, piece together a team of young talent and second-tier veterans. From Larry Lucchino’s perspective, it’s a disaster. Choo had an .815 OPS last season, and he’s an intriguing option. But he’s not going make Christmas at Fenway any sort of victory party.
Maybe the fact that this year’s “splash” was to sign one of their own is an encouraging signal as to how the Red Sox approach the offseason. Or, maybe it’s a concerning movement that signals the constant, nauseating sell job is still of utmost importance. Fans are divided on the subject of welcoming Ortiz back for two years not because of the player, but because of the process.
Ortiz should finish his career here, and as long as they’re productive years, nobody is going to argue with the benefit of that. But the fact that the Red Sox simply tossed money at a problem – again – has to make you stop and wonder, if only a bit, as to if anything has changed.