DALLAS — All David Ortiz has to do is nod his head before midnight tomorrow and he is guaranteed via arbitration at least a one-year contract with the Red Sox for 2012 with a healthy raise from the $12.5 million he made last season. In the end, it could be north of $14 million.
It would be the most lucrative season of his long career and make him the best-paid DH in the game. Ortiz also would get his wish to continue playing in Boston.
It may sound like an easy decision. But Ortiz also puts value in the comfort of long-term security and is hopeful the Red Sox will agree to a two-year contract.
The question, as always, is money. Ortiz would prefer $25 million over two years and the Red Sox may provide such security only at a discount. If they can sign Ortiz to a contract worth $10 million a year, it would create some payroll flexibility to bolster the roster elsewhere.
“I can’t handicap it,” Red Sox general manager Ben Cherington said when asked if a multi-year deal was possible. “We’ve talked to him about that. In theory, yeah, we’d like to have him on the team [beyond 2012]. We’ve expressed to him that if there’s a way to make it work, we’d like to have him.
“We’d like to have him on the team moving forward and potentially have him finish his career with the Red Sox. But we haven’t reached an agreement on a contract. We’ve had good dialogue and I think there’s a good understanding of the respective positions and a lot of mutual respect.
“If we don’t reach an agreement by tomorrow we’ll see what his decision is. If we don’t and he accepts [arbitration], then we’ll be happy with that outcome.”
According to a source close to Ortiz, he has not made a decision but is willing to accept arbitration. Even if Ortiz accepts arbitration, he can continue negotiating for a multi-year deal. If the sides did go to a hearing before an arbitration panel, it would not be until February.
The sides agreed to continue talking tonight. Ortiz’s agent, Fernando Cuza, refused comment.
Ortiz would be taking a significant risk by declining arbitration because all the guarantees would vanish. The Red Sox would be free to offer Ortiz whatever they wanted and could use the limitations of the free-agent market to squeeze him.
Ortiz is coming off a strong season that saw him hit .309 with 29 home runs and 96 RBIs. But he is 36, cannot play the field beyond a few games and is a Type A free agent, meaning that any team signing him would have to compensate the Red Sox with a draft pick.
Given those factors, it would be virtually impossible for Ortiz to get anything close to $12.5 million in 2012. He might not get that sum for two years.
There are teams interested in Ortiz but none have been aggressive.
“The Red Sox did him a favor when they offered him arbitration,” one agent said.
Cherington does not disagree with that assessment.
“I think it’s a strong indication of our interest and our willingness to commit to him, potentially at a significant salary for next year,” he said.