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Boston Exercises 2011 Option on Ortiz, No Plans for Extension

November 4, 2010

In a move that many expected the Boston Red Sox announced today that they would be picking up the option on David Ortiz’s contract for the 2011 season. The move will pay Ortiz $12.5 Million next year in what will be the slugger’s age 35 season. While there seemed to be an expectation the decision would be made, there have been discussions about whether it was a move that made sense for the Red Sox.

Ortiz has struggled to historically slow starts each of the past two seasons. In 2009 he hit .185 with just one home run through April and May. He did end the season on a better trend, finishing with a .238/.332/.462 line with 28 HRs and 99 RBI. His batting average was a career low without taking into consideration his 2001 season with Minnesota in which he missed most of May, all of June, and the beginning of July to injury. Aside from that it was a largely typical Ortiz season.

In 2010 he managed a mere .143/.238/.286 line with just one home run through April. His bat reappeared in May and he would be fairly consistent over the season’s final months to finish with a .270/.370/.529 line with 32 HRs and 102 RBI – another typical Ortiz season.

With such horrid starts to each of the last two seasons, Ortiz has experienced just how fickle Boston sports fans can be as he’s been booed at the ballpark and criticized relentlessly by Red Sox Nation on the radio, in print, and anywhere else you can find fans talking about their beloved Sox. He’s turned things around each of the past two seasons and is largely cheered by the end of the season, but the critical nature of the fans has seemingly started to weigh on him greatly. The most common question during his slumps centered around many wondering aloud if his days as one of baseball’s most feared hitters are over.

This past July before winning the Home Run Derby contest at the All Star Game in Anaheim, Ortiz was asked about his future with the Boston organization. His comments were as follows:

I’m going to tell you, I ain’t going nowhere. I don’t want one year. Why should I return for one year and go through the same [stuff] I’m going through now, just because it’s my last year? No. I like to be left alone when I’m playing baseball. I know how to clean my [stuff] up.”

After the season, Ortiz reiterated these sentiments and expressed his desire to sign a multi year extension with the Red Sox. No specific figures have been mentioned publicly, from what I’ve seen, so we don’t exactly know what Ortiz is looking for in terms of years and/or dollars on such an extension.

For a point of comparison, the last contract that the two sides agreed upon was in April 2006. It was a four year extension, covering his 2007 through 2010 seasons for a total of $52 Million. The deal also called for the 2011 team option at $12.5 Million. There was no buyout on the option. At age 35, unable to play the field defensively, and on the tail-end of his career from an offensive standpoint it is safe to say that he won’t come close to matching such an extension this time around.

But that does pose the question: If the Red Sox and Ortiz were to discuss a contract extension, what would be a fair offer? And the starting point to address beforehand, should they discuss an extension at all?

As for a fair offer, let’s take a look at the financial side of things first. According to Ortiz’s Baseball Reference page, he’s made roughly $71.4 Million over the course of his career. The last 8 of his 12 seasons have come in Boston where his average production has come to the tune of a .286/.386/.572 line with 36 HRs, 116 RBI, and an OPS+ of 144 in just over 500 at-bats. But again, he is a liability defensively and getting older.

The 2011 option would pay him $12.5 Million for one season. With the type of annual production he has had in his time with the Red Sox it’s safe to say any reworked deal wouldn’t limit that annual salary too extremely. He’s been a big part of the lineup but also a fan favorite for the past 8 years which has to account for something with the Boston ownership group. Realistically that would put the average annual value of any extension in the neighborhood of $9-11 Million.

That range may seem high to some considering his age, declining abilities, and lack of peripheral statistics (Ortiz isn’t exactly a “speed” guy). The range may seem high considering the Texas Rangers just turned down an option they had for their own aging and defensively challenged designated hitter, Vladimir Guerrero. An option that was for just $9 Million. Guerrero just finished his age 35 season and posted a .300/.345/.496 line with 29 HRs, 115 RBI, and an OPS+ of 122. Perhaps most importantly he provided the lineup protection that allowed Josh Hamilton to win his first batting title and likely MVP Award. Yet a one year, $9 Million option was considered “too costly” for the Rangers to simply exercise. Instead they will pay him a $1 Million buyout and take their chances that they’ll be able to resign him. If not, and he declines an offer for arbitration, the team will get a pair of draft picks as compensation. Allegedly they want to resign him but it remains to be seen what kind offer Texas chooses to make, both in terms of dollars and years.

As for length, that could be more of a sticking point depending on what exactly it is that Ortiz feels he deserves. He isn’t happy with a one year contract but hasn’t indicated how long a deal he is seeking. Boston is one of the few teams who can afford to give an aging veteran a multi year extension that will likely seem like an overpayment when all is said and done. That doesn’t mean that they should just hand out something that will hurt the organization from a payroll and roster flexibility standpoint in future years. Sure, they could go with a three year offer but there doesn’t seem to be much internal interest in discussing something of that length. In fact, late this evening word has already leaked out that they don’t intend to discuss an extension with Ortiz at this point in time. Yet, the ideal term if an extension were to be considered would be a two-year commitment.

So let’s say we can conclude that we’re looking at a two year contract in the neighborhood of $9-11 Million. Such a contract would permit the Red Sox to maintain production out of the DH spot while maintaining payroll flexibility. Ultimately it would be that extra year that Ortiz is looking for but we don’t know how that compares to what he really wants. Does he value himself as deserving more than two years? Or will he posture for a higher average annual salary? Again, it depends on what Ortiz would ask for.

Considering Texas let Guerrero go two days ago rather than picking up a one year, $9 Million option the question does also now become should Boston have declined Ortiz’s option altogether. They could then enter the bidding and try to either resign Ortiz or bring aboard Guerrero at a lower salary. That’s a moot possibility now, however.

Of course, there is also the question of whether or not an extension should even be discussed by the team. The simple truth is the team has no obligation to do so. Yes, Ortiz has provided great value in the 8 years he has been with the organization. Over that span he has been a fan favorite, provided 28.5 bWAR, and aside from a steroid allegation he’s been a model player in and out of the clubhouse. But that doesn’t mean he’s owed anything.

Ultimately the organization has already stated they do not plan on discussing an extension with Ortiz. Instead they seem content with having him in their lineup for one more season and then they’ll assess the situation and evaluate their other options. When everything is said and done it’s likely the safest route to take. As I’ve shown, they could look at offering a two year deal that would remain partially team friendly. But they don’t have to offer anything. The $12.5 Million is likely more than they’d like to spend on that year but Boston can fit that into their payroll without too much of an issue.

Guerrero is one of a number of options that could be available on the market so there clearly were alternatives to bringing back Ortiz. Perhaps exercising the option is their way of giving him that “farewell tour” season that he thinks he’s owed. The option isn’t necessarily a bad one when all things are considered so there shouldn’t be much regret in Boston that they chose to go that route. However, it will look worse if Guerrero ends up signing a one year deal himself for significantly less than $12.5 Million or if Ortiz struggles beyond the first month of the season again.

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From → Boston Red Sox

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