David Ortiz, who helped return the Red Sox to glory in 2004, will be around to see if he can do it again, agreeing with the team on Friday night to a two-year contract worth $26 million.
The deal includes incentives that could bring the total value to $30 million, according to sources.
The agreement came together roughly five hours before Ortiz would have entered the free agent market and been eligible to sign with any team. Now he has a deal that could take him to retirement.
Ortiz, who turns 37 Nov. 18, hit .318 with a 1.026 OPS last season. He had 23 home runs and 60 RBIs despite playing only 90 games because of a strained right Achilles’ tendon suffered July 16.
Ortiz said several times during the season that he wanted to stay with the Red Sox. General manager Ben Cherington was amendable to that, saying on Oct. 5 that retaining Ortiz was a priority for the team.
The process was relatively smooth after that, especially when compared to previous years.
The Sox and Ortiz were a few minutes away from what surely would have been a rancorous arbitration hearing last winter before the sides agreed to split the difference and agreed on a one-year contract worth $14.575 million.
In 2011, Ortiz was seeking a multiyear deal and settled for one year and $12.5 million when the Sox picked up the option on his contract. Ortiz complained about his contract status several times that season, pointing out that the Red Sox had signed Josh Beckett, Carl Crawford, and Adrian Gonzalez to multiyear contracts.
The Sox probably would have preferred to keep Ortiz on a year-to-year basis. But the financial flexibility gained by trading Beckett, Crawford, and Gonzalez to the Dodgers Aug. 25 made it easier to give Ortiz the security he was seeking.
Ortiz has hit .290 in 10 seasons with the Sox, making the All-Star team eight times. He is among the franchise’s career leaders in runs (909), hits (1,470), total bases (2,899), home runs (343), RBIs (1,088), and walks (825).
Ortiz also adds an intangible element that the Red Sox valued. He is a clubhouse leader, active in the community, and brings consistency to what has been a team in chaos for a year.
For some clubs, the idea of investing so much in an aging designated hitter wouldn’t make sense. But Ortiz is more than the best DH in the game for the Sox.
In case of a snag, the Red Sox tendered Ortiz a $13.3 million qualifying offer earlier in the afternoon. That would have ensured the team receiving a draft pick had he signed elsewhere.
There was concern that at least one team, the Texas Rangers, would make an attempt to sign Ortiz.
The Red Sox did not make qualifying offers to righthanders Aaron Cook, Daisuke Matsuzaka, and Vicente Padilla, first baseman James Loney, and outfielders Scott Podsednik and Cody Ross.
Those players remain eligible to sign with the Red Sox.
Ross is clearly the priority among that group. The 31-year-old hit .267 with 22 home runs and 81 RBIs last season after signing a one-year, $3 million deal in January.
The Sox would like Ross to return and he said several times that he enjoyed his first season with the Red Sox despite the team finishing 69-93. But Ross is seeking a deal in the range of three years and $27 million, and little progress was made.
With Ortiz in the fold, the Red Sox need a first baseman, at least one outfielder, and a starting pitcher.Peter Abraham can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @PeteAbe.