A quick thought following up on Friday’s not-so-quick thought on David Ortiz’s now-official contract extension:
For the starry-eyed optimists among us — and such folks account for a greater percentage of the Red Sox fan population than ever, thanks to those three World Championships in 10 years and every-little-thing’s-gonna-be-all-right duck boat paraders of 2013 — the best thing about Big Papi’s new deal would be enjoying the status quo right up until his final swing.
Last season, Ortiz hit 30 homers, drove in 103 runs, put up a .309/.395/.564 slash line, and cajoled, inspired, and slugged the Red Sox to another championship. The year before, he hit 23 homers with a 1.026 OPS before an Achilles’ injury derailed everything. In 2011, he was one of the league’s most formidable hitters, with 29 homers and a .953 OPS.
If over the next three years — heck, since this is the time of the season for unyielding optimism, let’s even assume they pick up his contract for a fourth year, 2017 — he can resemble what he has been over the past three seasons and for the majority of his 11 previous seasons with the Red Sox, that certainly would answer the headline.
If David Ortiz hits 25-30 homers per year through 2017, that would give him well over 500 for his career and solidify his case for Cooperstown. Such ridiculous production through age 41. Well, sure, that would be the best part of this deal.
But that daydream hypothetical is fairly unlikely — as great as he’s been in his late 30s, age will slow that bat in time, perhaps even before the two guaranteed years on his contract ($15 million this year, $16 million in ’15, with a vesting option in ’16 and that club option in ’17) are complete.
Make no mistake, this is a worthwhile deal for just about everyone. Ortiz gets a couple additional years’ worth of security. The Red Sox get a middle-of-the-order hitter at a reasonable rate, one that’s still tolerable if he slips into his decline phase. And Red Sox fans get to watch the greatest clutch hitter in franchise history, the man who helped change everything, for a couple more good years.
Which brings me to the real, common-sense answer to that headline.
You know what the best part of David Ortiz’s new deal is?
That it is a virtual assurance that his time with the Red Sox won’t end badly.
I suppose there’s a small chance that injury or scandal or the failure of his option to vest before ’16 or something could lead to a contentious conclusion to his Red Sox career. But those are small possibilities hardly worth considering now. He’s locked up long-term (by his previous career standards anyway — remember, he never did hit that jackpot deal that so many lesser peers received) and should be a Red Sox player and personality for life.
There should be no ugly ending here, and that’s a blessing considering virtually every Red Sox superstar of recent vintage has departed on bad terms, whether we’re talking Mo Vaughn, Nomar Garciaparra, Roger Clemens, Manny Ramirez, even Pedro Martinez to a degree.
If ever there is a Red Sox player who deserves a grand farewell and the proper he’s-a-jolly-good-fellow sendoff, it’s … well, it was probably Pedro, actually. But Ortiz, the greatest clutch hitter in Red Sox history who owned the plaque to prove it before he hit .688 in a World Series, deserves a graceful final scene.
He’s set up to have it now, to become the next Red Sox Ambassador for Life, the baseball king of our [word only he can get away with] city.
Should this new contract lead to a happy ending to Ortiz’s playing career, we’ll consider it just one more aspect of Red Sox history that he’s changed for the better.