BALTIMORE - From a business point of view, the Red Sox have handled it right. They have been going year-to-year with David Ortiz, which, given the DH market and the fact that he is now 36, is the right thing to do.
But there’s more to it with Ortiz.
He can’t be treated like any other DH or like any other 36-year-old. He is different. We all know it and the Red Sox know it.
He is this team’s goodwill ambassador, its most emotional player. He wears his heart on his sleeve.
He loves the Red Sox.
Ortiz told me last month that he wants to play two more years. So it says here the Red Sox should offer him a two-year extension that would keep him in Boston until he retires.
It would give Ortiz the feeling that he is respected, that his long service, as a loyal member of two championship teams, is being recognized. It’s a gesture. A good gesture. The right gesture.
I believe it would end this recent sniping, during which he has said that management doesn’t respect him.
We all know that what he said isn’t true. Of course management respects him. John Henry has had deep, personal conversations with Ortiz about what he means to the team and the community.
Now it’s time for them to show it in a way that Ortiz recognizes: with commitment.
“Respect’’ to Ortiz means they’re committing to him. And he doesn’t feel they have. A one-year deal to him means the Sox are waiting for him to fail so they can cut him loose. In his mind, Ortiz has played a game with them and even told them straight out that he’s going to make them pay, one way or the other. So far he has.
As it is, the team may have cost itself some money when it turned down Ortiz’s two-year, $25 million request in the offseason. Given the year he is having, he’ll get another good-sized raise if he has to settle for another one-year deal, and the two-year outlay will be millions more than what he would have taken.
The Sox already have discussed a post-playing career with Ortiz, though teams are no longer able to extend personal services contracts. They can extend Ortiz for the next two seasons even as a goodwill payment. After all, they picked up Curt Schilling’s $8 million option as a going-away gift when they knew he wouldn’t be able to pitch.
Ortiz has meant a lot to the organization and the fan base. If he is disturbed by this - and he always indicated that he was - then why not extend for a special player?
The Sox have rewarded Carl Crawford (seven years, $142 million) and John Lackey (five years, $82.5 million). We all understand how it works. Those two were free agents, and someone was willing to give them the money. That someone was Boston.
Has Crawford or Lackey done an ounce of what Ortiz has done for the Red Sox? Of course not.
Not that any of us should be crying over Ortiz’s one-year, $14.75 million deal. The older you get, the tougher it is for teams to offer you a multiyear deal.
The Yankees made an exception for Derek Jeter, signing him to a three-year, $51 million deal with an $8 million player option in 2014 that could be worth as much as $17 million. The Yankees are willing to eat whatever they have to if Jeter is no longer performing by the end of the contract. But I doubt they’ll have to worry about that.
You can debate whether Ortiz is on Jeter’s planet, but he has been and still is a significant piece of the team. The flip side is that Ortiz was out there as a free agent, and while some teams called, no one was willing to offer him as much as Boston was.
For the record, according to Ortiz, the Red Sox did offer a two-year deal, but it was in the $18 million range. In other words, they made him an offer he could only refuse.
Ortiz has answered all the questions the Sox had that led them to limit their commitment. He takes better care of himself, he is a leader, he still can hit for average, he can now hit lefthanders, he runs out ground balls, he plays with hustle, and he is still a force.
Ortiz also has said he wants to go out on top and not simply hang on while his skills diminish until there’s nothing left.
As he will point out, he has never been a guy who laid down because he has a multiyear deal. He was working under a four-year, $52 million deal from 2007-10 (with an option year in 2011) and had a 1.066 OPS in ’07. 2008 (injury) and ’09 were down years, though he was still quite productive. Then he ratcheted things back up the last two seasons.
He is a proud man who doesn’t seem like the take-the-money-and-run type. There have been a handful of other such proud players in Red Sox history: Ted Williams, Carl Yastrzemski, Dwight Evans, Jim Rice, Wade Boggs, Roger Clemens, and Pedro Martinez, to name a few.
But none of them was a part of two championship teams - and not just a part, a big part. Ortiz produced huge numbers in that era. He and Manny Ramirez were the most prolific 1-2 punch in baseball.
“When those two guys were together,’’ said Orioles manager Buck Showalter, “that was scary.’’
In a way, the year-to-year approach is what Sox management wants, because they feel Ortiz performs well with a chip on his shoulder. General manager Ben Cherington said Wednesday the team currently has no plans to negotiate with Ortiz during the season.
And teams are trying to get away from long-term commitments to older players because they usually wind up backfiring. It doesn’t appear this one would, although who knows?
Whether it does or it doesn’t, it just seems to be a special case here.
While we’re not trying to negotiate Ortiz’s extension here, shouldn’t the Red Sox concede, “OK, he’s done it. He’s proven he’s worthy of playing longer’’?
This situation is far different from those of Tim Wakefield and Jason Varitek. Wakefield had become a spot starter/reliever and Varitek had become the backup catcher.
You can make the case that Ortiz, as we sit here in May 2012, is still Boston’s biggest offensive force.
Not to mention the force he has been in team history.
Time for the Red Sox to recognize that.