SARASOTA, Fla. — They took care of him, but at the same time, they will make David Ortiz earn his future with the team.
The Red Sox are not paying Ortiz for the work he has done but are allowing him to earn his salary for his work going forward.
A very skillfully designed contract.
“It’s great, man,” said Ortiz at a Monday news conference announcing the contract. “You guys know how personal I take my time in this organization. This organization has been great to me and my family. I’m always proud to wear this uniform and be part of this wonderful organization.
“I guess you guys get tired of me talking about contract all the time. At least I’m going to have some time off asking questions and dealing with a contract situation. I’m all about the business, just focusing on baseball. This is a big part of it.”
Ortiz, 38, will earn $15 million this season and $16 million in 2015, and there are club options for 2016 and 2017. The option for ’16 vests based on plate appearances, and there are different levels. He makes $11 million for 425 plate appearances, $12 million for 475, $13 million for 525, $14 million for 550, $15 million for 575, and $16 million for 600. The 2017 option would vest at whatever level Ortiz achieves in 2016.
This means Ortiz has to remain healthy, and produce enough to play a lot.
When asked what makes him think he can play potentially for four more years, he said, “Well, every year is different. Every year, mentally, you get prepared for what is coming up next. In my case, I love playing the game. I love being part of this organization.
“Just knowing that you’re going to finish your career here with what I’ve already been for the past 11, 12 seasons, that’s something that’s a huge accomplishment. In my case, this is the place I want to be. This is the place that I know, and now knowing that as long as I’m healthy and as long as I’m good to go, I’m going to be playing, it’s just less stress.”
So if he can’t muster a high number of plate appearances, Ortiz will be paid $11 million, a relatively pedestrian salary for someone of his accomplishments.
But general manager Ben Cherington emphasized that the Red Sox view him as more than just a 38-year-old DH. He remains the centerpiece of the lineup.
“In a lot of different ways, David is an outlier, an exception to the rule,” Cherington said. “There just aren’t many guys that produce at the level that he has to this point in their career. You can’t really look at it as you would normally. Even as it relates to a contract discussion, you have to look at it differently.
“We always go off what we’ve seen most recently, and what we’ve seen most recently is a guy in 2013, even putting playoffs aside, even in the regular season, he was one of the best hitters in the league.
“We don’t have any reason to believe that’s not going to continue for some period of time. David takes terrific care of himself. He cares. He’s got team goals. He’s got personal goals. There’s a lot of reasons for him to continue playing.
“He’s got a lot of pride. There’s really no comparison to make, but we go off what we see now and most recently, and that’s a very good hitter and one who we continue to believe will continue to be a very good hitter for some period of time.”
There is no doubt Ortiz pressed the action here by speaking publicly about an extension. When finishing his previous deal, the sides had agreed not to reopen talks until after the 2014 season, but after Ortiz finished fourth overall in OPS in major league baseball and won the World Series MVP award, the Red Sox felt they had no choice but to oblige their best hitter.
When asked what the goals were in these negotiations, Cherington said, “If we’re going to talk about this now, let’s see if we can find a way to craft something that’s fair to David and see if he can finish his career with Boston. I’m glad we were able to accomplish that.
“Eventually, Father Time wins, but he can push that back as far as he can.”
Given the structure of the contract, the Red Sox are going to make Ortiz prove he still can play. Nothing says he will reach the end of the deal, and if he doesn’t, the team will be off the hook.
But there’s no doubt the Sox wanted this to have a happy ending. They didn’t want it to go the way Wade Boggs, Roger Clemens, Dwight Evans, and Mo Vaughn went — with the player leaving under a dark cloud, with a bad taste.
Not with Ortiz, who may go down as one of the greatest clutch hitters ever and may well be the first pure DH to make it to the Hall of Fame.
The Ortiz haters are out there, though. They have reared their ugly heads on Twitter, mentioning his name appearing on the New York Times PED list during the pre-test for the eventual drug program.
One tweeter even cited his “decline” as a player. Some called him “one-dimensional.” Some felt the money should be spent on an all-around player.
Ortiz has had to deal with the DH stereotype throughout his career. At times he hasn’t felt respected as a player because he’s a DH.
“I think it’s respected — it’s just who is representing the position on your team,” he said. “The reason why there are many teams rotating players in that position is because they haven’t found a guy that provides the need they’re looking for. And it’s hard to find.
“When I first came to the Red Sox, I wasn’t going to be the everyday DH. I worked my way up and the team felt comfortable with me in that position. And things have been going really good for a long time.
“It’s like the manager for the Orioles. I read a note that he told to some newspaper, ‘If I had David Ortiz, I don’t need to be rotating players.’ It’s like when you have a guy at any other position that can consistently provide what you’re looking for.
“You’re not going to be rotating a second baseman, a first baseman, a No. 1, No. 2, or No. 3 pitcher.”
There is only one David Ortiz. He remains an offensive force, crucial to the success of the Red Sox.
The Red Sox want him around into his 40s, but they’ll make him earn it.Nick Cafardo can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @nickcafardo.