Boston Red Sox

Boston Red Sox

Sunday, November 07, 2010

Red Sox Pick Up Ortiz's Option; Best For Player And Team

The Red Sox chose to pick up David Ortiz's option because they want the iconic player back next season and they didn't want negotiations to get messy.

As a result, it is obvious that the Red Sox overpaid for a one-dimensional hitter who cannot play defense.

Ortiz wanted the security of a longer-term deal that would give him the comfort of playing out his days in Boston, a city he has come to embrace as much as it has embraced him.

Should he struggle again at the start of next season, or at any time time, Ortiz hoped not to deal with the constant pressure and scrutiny from the media and fans alike, and all the questions of whether he may finally be released.

The heft of his 2011 salary alone now makes that somewhat less likely.

But Theo Epstein knows that, despite his solid season in 2010, Ortiz is a player whose best years are now clearly behind him. The reality is that, on the open market, Ortiz would command a salary of about half what the Red Sox will pay him next year.

Yet, the Red Sox still overpaid. Epstein didn't want to be saddled with a longer term pact based on sentimentality or nostalgia. So the easiest, cleanest thing to do was to pick up the option. Perhaps the team will benefit from having a highly motivated Ortiz playing for another contract next year.

The good news is that Ortiz finished the 2010 season batting .270 (which he finally reached in the last game of the season), with 32 homers, 36 doubles, 102 RBI and a .529 slugging percentage.

On the other hand, Ortiz struck out 145 times in 2010, fourth most in the AL. It was also a career high for the Red Sox DH, breaking the previous high he had set in 2009.

Yes, Ortiz has whiffed an awful lot the last two years for a guy who was once a very good hitter, not just a slugger.

Strikeouts are an example of futility and are the worst kind of out. Since the ball isn't even put into play, it doesn't stand a chance of producing a hit or scoring a run, as in the case of a sacrifice or reaching on a fielder's choice.

Of even greater concern, Ortiz was positively inept against lefties last season, hitting only .222, notching just two of his 32 homers, and slugging a mere .324 in repeatedly futile at-bats.

Ortiz will be greatly disappointed to learn that he will often sit against lefties next season. Whether or not he expects it, he'd better learn to accept it. And the truth is, if Ortiz doesn't expect it, he is delusional.

Great players are always the last to accept their decline. They are always the last to realize that their skills are diminishing. They always think they can still make the big play, get the key hit, and come through in the clutch, just like they always used to.

The unfortunate thing for the Red Sox is that, at $12.5 million next season, Ortiz takes up too much salary space for them to go out and get another solidly capable right-handed hitter to complement him.

For that price, the Sox should have been able to employ a combination of left-handed and a right-handed hitters who could both DH and adequately field their positions.

Ortiz's defensive shortcomings are also a liability to the team, and his lack of ability in the field clearly limits manager Terry Francona's options.

But Ortiz still murders right-handed pitching, and the Sox hope that continues in 2011.

It should be a milestone season for the Sox' slugger. Already fifth in team history with 291 career homers, next season Ortiz will join the likes of Red Sox legends Ted Williams, Carl Yastrzemski, Jim Rice and Dwight Evans in the 300-homer club.

What's more, Ortiz will begin 2011 with 932 RBI, and should become just the sixth player in team history to surpass 1,000 RBI.

Yes, the Red Sox overpaid Ortiz by picking up his option. But they wanted to avoid an ugly, protracted negotiation with him in which they would have to point out all of his shortcomings.

Nothing good comes from telling the greatest clutch hitter in team history that he has slipped considerably, even if it's true.

As much as anything, the Red Sox have accepted that they are indeed paying for past performance. Ortiz holds a special place in Red Sox history, and in the hearts of the fans. He is a two-time World Series winner with the Sox, and he is a leader both in the clubhouse and in the community.

Ortiz now has seven seasons with at least 25 home runs for the Red Sox. Only Jim Rice (7) and Ted Williams (14) have accomplished that feat. And Ortiz now has six 30-homer, 100-RBI seasons with the Red Sox.

Those six 30-homer seasons tie Ortiz with Manny Ramirez for second most in franchise history behind Ted Williams, who did in eight times. And only Williams (9) and Rice (8) had more 100-RBI seasons than Ortiz in Red Sox history.

The Sox determined that it is better to overpay Ortiz, keep him happy, satisfied, and upbeat, yet hungry and motivated for another contract in 2012. A disgruntled Ortiz would have been bad for team chemistry.

Over the past two seasons, the images of him moping back to the dugout after yet another strike out, and then sulking about it on the bench, were both sad and disappointing.

The Red Sox can only hope that there are more of the highs and fewer of the lows in 2011. And that will likely be the case as long as Ortiz plays against righties and sits against lefties.

Count on it.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

What a great analysis of Ortiz. Seriously, it's as though you copied this out of the thought bubbles of Epstein and Francona. Excellent evaluation.