David Ortiz had a very productive 2011 season, and as a result finds himself as a free agent who has garnered interest from several teams in search of a designated hitter. He has been offered arbitration by the Red Sox, and will need to decide whether to accept and secure a contract for 2012 at an increase from the $12.5M salary in his previous contract, or look for more money and/or more years in a new deal from another MLB team. Recent reports have linked him to teams such as the Bal timore Orioles, and yes, even the New York Yankees.
Ortiz’s annual charity golf event in the Dominican Republic this week was attended by a number of baseball folks anxious to show their support for Ortiz. New Boston manager Bobby Valentine made the trip to see Ortiz his first significant move in his new position. No doubt he also took the opportunity to personally express his admiration for Ortiz, and his desire to have him return to the team Valentine will now manage. Yankee second baseman Robinson Cano was also in attendance, and made his pitch to have Ortiz sign with the Yankees this year. Johnny Damon, who as most know has played for both teams, projected that Ortiz’s 30 home runs in 2011 could easily become 40 home runs if half of Ortiz’s at-bats were to take place in Yankee stadium, with it’s inviting right field fences and favorable wind currents.
Ultimately this will be Ortiz’s decision, and his first move will be to decide whether to accept the arbitration offer or choose free agency. Ortiz has made no secret of his desire to stay in Boston on a multi-year contract. Accepting arbitration would also mean accepting a one-year deal, so it is likely he will reject this option and use his productive 2011 season as leverage for a better deal. The Red Sox would receive draft pick compensation should Ortiz sign elsewhere, but would find themselves lacking a productive power bat in their line up for the coming season. Although they could use his salary to find another bat via the free agency market or a trade, Big Papi, in addition to being a skilled power hitter, is also a leader on the team and in the community, and would be sorely missed. He is one of the few remaining players from the 2004 and 2007 championship seasons, and his contributions to those successes are already legendary in Boston. He was also the winner of the 2011 Roberto Clemente Award for his community service efforts in both Boston and the Dominican Republic. The Clemente Award recognizes the player who best represents the game of baseball through positive contributions, on and off the field.
So what does his future hold? The view from here is that he declines arbitration and fields offers from teams such as the Orioles, Blue Jay, or perhaps the Mariners, all of whom are looking for a big bat and could make room at the DH slot. The Yankees might join the fray just to escalate the bidding price, but they will want to reserve the DH slot to rotate in rest for aging veterans like Derek Jeter and Alex Rodriguez and young catcher Jesus Montero. They likely would not over pay only to create a roster logjam. Ortiz has experience at first base too, but most view his range at the position to be a liability that would only deteriorate further with age. This would seem to limit his appeal to a National League team. Although the possibility exists that he could be viewed as at least a part-time first baseman, there is almost no chance that an NL team would pay his salary and take the defensive risk, or limit him to part-time duty at first and pinch-hitting.
New Orioles GM Dan Duquette has shown willingness in the past to pull the strings on blockbuster deals like Manny Ramirez’s $120M contract, but those were different days and times. Baltimore should reserve much of its available funds to repair the team’s disastrous 2011 team ERA. Toronto is looking at the uninviting prospect of having Edwin Encarnacion as their DH, and must certainly like the thought of a lineup that includes the left-handed power of Ortiz to complement the right-handed power of Jose Bautista. However, they also have a need at closer and may not want to spend the money for Ortiz. Seattle is in the same situation, especially since they have an interest in free agent first baseman Prince Fielder.
Ortiz will need to weigh the offers he receives against his desire to stay in Boston. The most likely scenario is that he rejects those offers from other teams to secure a two-year deal with Boston. A two-year deal for less than $30M would probably get the job done. The opportunity to continue his Boston legacy both on and off the field should be enough to extend his Red Sox career to 2012 and perhaps beyond.
Sources: Nick Cafardo, Parade of Possibilities at Winter Meetings, 12/4/11, The Boston Globe
Mark Newman, Big Papi named 2011 Roberto Clemente Award winner, 10/20/11, MLB.com
Peter Abraham, Damon says pinstripes would suit Ortiz, 12/4/11, The Boston Globe