Touching All the Bases

A one-year extension for David Ortiz will be a nice gesture, but is it necessary now?


A brief thought on the ever-trustworthy Dan Roche’s report this morning that the Red Sox are close to signing David Ortiz to a one-year extension …

It’s a nice gesture, and one that could benefit the team as well as the player. Even at his advanced baseball age — he turned 38 in November — he’s continued to put up elite numbers, almost to the point of being underrated nationally. Doesn’t he always goes lower in a fantasy baseball draft than he stats suggest he should?

He hasn’t had an OPS below .953 since 2010, and as great as he was last year (.309/.395/.564, 30 homers in 137 games) the argument can be made that he was on track for his best season in this three-year stretch in 2012, before an Achilles injury essentially ended his season (and all hope of Red Sox contention). In 90 games, he had 23 homers and a 1.026 OPS.


If I recall correctly, he’s also had a fair amount to do with the Red Sox winning three World Series titles in the past decade.

Ortiz is still great, and given the scarcity of true heart-of-the-order sluggers these days, he may be the single most important player as they pursue that fourth championship in 11 years. (Think about that for a second.) I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it the day Cooperstown calls: January 22, 2003, the date Theo Epstein signed him almost as an afterthought, is on a very short list of the most important days in Red Sox history. Perhaps at the top of the list. Probably at the top, though Pavano-for-Pedro wasn’t a bad afternoon either.


That necessary salute to his achievements aside, and recognizing that there’s been a certain inevitability to giving him an extension for a while now, I still don’t believe the smartest business decision was to sign Ortiz beyond this year. Sure, the Red Sox are getting him at a decent rate — $15 million to $16 million, according to Roche, which would be the most Ortiz ever made in a single season.

There is a small sentimental aspect to this, and it’s the absolute truth that he has been a steal over the course of his Red Sox career.

But by extending him a year beyond the end of his contract, and presuming they continue to do so annually if he remains productive, they are essentially guaranteeing themselves that at some point in the near future, they will be paying him eight figures to watch him decline.


It’s understandable to wonder if part of the motivation is to shush the squeaky wheel by paying him a year later than they are obligated to do just to keep him satisfied and presumably silent. Whether or not it’s part of the motivation, they can afford it for sure. Just know that he won’t be a bargain at the end, and he may very well be dead money.

His brilliant performance and good health last season have in some sense washed away the memory of the struggles he had at the beginning of the 2009 and ’10 seasons. He did not hit his first home run until May 4 in 2009, and he was hitting .186 on June 2. In ’10, he was hitting .149 on May 4. It’s hard to believe now that this happened, but some radio caterwaulers were calling for his release.


I believe Ortiz when he says he wasn’t healthy during the grim early days of those seasons. But there’s no denying that we’ve also seen a gruesome glimpse of what it could look like when his decline occurs.

I’m glad David Ortiz, the one and only Big Papi, a Boston legend in his own time, remains here this year — and soon enough, will be signed up for one more season beyond this one.

I just hope that by the time 2015 rolls around, after he’s blown out 39 candles on the birthday cake, that he’s the same David Ortiz.

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