FORT MYERS, Fla. — The Red Sox ended the incessant banter about David Ortiz’s contract Sunday night when they made official a one-year extension worth $16 million, with club vesting options for 2016 and 2017 based on plate appearances and good health.
Ortiz was always looking for some sign from the Red Sox that they appreciated his contributions last season in leading them to another World Series championship.
Ortiz could have insisted on the $20 million annual compensation he felt he warranted, but instead settled again for a hometown discount for the peace of mind that he’s where he wants to be for the remainder of his career.
“With this agreement, we have near certainty that David Ortiz will finish his career in a Red Sox uniform, which is something we have all wanted and that we are all proud of,” Red Sox owner John Henry said in a statement released by the team.
“It is difficult to describe David’s contributions to our city both on the field and off the field, and we are so proud to have this ambassador of our game with us as he continues on this road to Cooperstown.”
Ortiz, 38, has led the team to three world championships and has been an All-Star nine times in his 11 years with the Red Sox.
Ortiz hit .309 with 30 home runs and 103 RBIs in 137 games last season. The designated hitter’s .564 slugging percentage ranked third among major league qualifiers behind Detroit’s Miguel Cabrera (.636) and Baltimore’s Chris Davis (.634).
While Ortiz has struggled this spring, he insists he has not turned the switch on yet and that spring training is meaningless to him. He’s still getting his timing at the plate and trying to start the year healthy after a productive offseason. He came to camp in very good shape, trying to gear up for the long haul.
After an early outburst about a contract extension, Ortiz had stopped discussing the issue. It seemed that once Henry, who also owns the Boston Globe, spoke to him there was a sense that the extension would be completed.
Ortiz will play for $15 million in 2014, but only after he made $4 million in incentives from last season that added to his guaranteed $11 million for being on the disabled list for fewer than 20 days.
As this offseason began, the Red Sox thought they had an agreement with Ortiz that the sides wouldn’t discuss a new contract until after the 2014 season.
But Ortiz never seemed to get that memo.
After his exploits in the World Series, he drove the conversation back toward an extension and the Red Sox succumbed, not wanting to anger their best hitter.
Ortiz always has fought the notion that being a DH makes him less valuable. The Red Sox always have made it clear that he was the top-paid player at his position. But he continues to be one of baseball’s most productive hitters and remains the centerpiece and most feared hitter in the Red Sox lineup.
Of the players earning $20 million or more per season, only Cabrera surpassed Ortiz in production.
Ortiz was still making far less than less-productive players such as Matt Kemp, Prince Fielder, Josh Hamilton, Albert Pujols, Jacoby Ellsbury, Mark Teixeira, Vernon Wells (not even in baseball anymore), Alfonso Soriano, Alex Rodriguez (when he was active), Ryan Howard, and many others.
Now the question is how much longer can Ortiz play?
As long as a player still can hit and stay healthy running the bases, age is not a huge factor at the DH position. He’ll be 41 if he plays out both option years.
If Ortiz had decided to play it out with the Red Sox and go after a $20 million payday for 2015, he might have been successful if he had another good year. While teams have begun to look at the DH position as one at which they can rotate players, there’s only one Ortiz.
As Orioles manager Buck Showalter often said when asked about the rotation of DHs, “If I had a guy like David Ortiz there would be no rotation.” It’s true. The Angels are taking a chance on 41-year-old Raul Ibanez as their DH this season.
In addition, Ortiz is one of the biggest ambassadors for baseball, a hero among Latin players. Players continually seek him out when they come to play the Red Sox. And Ortiz has been so helpful to so many young players over the years.
Next up is Jon Lester.
Negotiations with the lefthander are ongoing, but the Red Sox won’t sign any player to a deal that won’t be in their favor. We’ll soon find out if Lester obliges the way Ortiz and Dustin Pedroia did.
While Ellsbury took the money and ran to the Yankees, it seems the Red Sox way these days is to accept less for the chance of being in a winning program.
Ortiz, who will speak to the media Monday in Sarasota, was the latest to see the light.