SARASOTA, Fla. — David Ortiz came to his decision to retire after much soul-searching.
After all, it’s never easy to turn your back on $16 million, even though the drudgery of earning that, from a physical point of view, can be daunting.
That was part of Ortiz’s decision. He pointed out that it’s really hard to play when you’re 40. Not only is the offseason preparation a grind — and you’re just sick of it after so many years — but the in-season part is also a tremendous grind.
Just a DH, you say? That doesn’t mean you can just show up and play. Part of Ortiz’s decision has to do with how difficult it is to manage the Achilles’ tendon injury he suffered a few years back.
It’s something he has to prepare for before every game. A lot of training room time, a lot of icing, a lot of maintenance just to be able to hit and run the bases. If he were a full-time first baseman, forget it, he probably would have been done a couple of years ago.
But here’s the flip side.
He’s still a really good hitter.
He was taken aback when I informed him that he’s the only player in baseball who has driven in 100 runs in each of the last three seasons. Think about that. He’s done that ahead of Jose Bautista and Miguel Cabrera and Edwin Encarnacion and Paul Goldschmidt and Mike Trout.
He seemed almost shocked to hear that Trout hadn’t done it. And that Bautista and Cabrera had done it only two of the three years, and that he stood alone.
What if he does it a fourth straight season? It’s not out of the realm of possibility.
And if he does, does he simply say, “Well, I went out on top. See you later”? Or do the juices start to flow again and make him realize that he’s still among the most productive hitters in the game?
Ortiz kidded that maybe he’d take a year off and come back the following year.
But he says he’s ready to leave the game he loves.
He was reminded about Mike Mussina, who in his final season won 20 games for the first time. He walked away on top, knowing he still had enough in the tank to achieve what he’d never been able to achieve in a Hall of Fame-worthy career.
If Mussina had wanted to play one more season, would the Yankees have turned down their 20-game winner? Not likely.
While people are quick to point out that Ortiz’s departure would be a good thing because it allows Hanley Ramirez to become the Red Sox DH, they should be careful what they wish for. Ramirez’s production hasn’t come close to that of Ortiz. Good luck trying to replace the consistent 30/100 that Ortiz produces just about every season. Try to find that. Try to sign that. Try to trade for that.
Ortiz sees no reason why he can’t repeat that 30/100 in his final season. He is amazed at the number of hard-hit balls he saw go for outs in 2015, and he figures some of them should find their way for hits this season. You watch his batting practice and his swings in games, and you know there’s more left in the tank.
He says he will not have to reduce or manage his schedule as long as his legs feel fine. He figures to be in the 140s for games played. He may take more time off in interleague games so he doesn’t have to play as much first base, but while he tried to do that last season, he tended to get caught up in the moment when the team needed his bat in the lineup, so he would forgo scheduled days off and play.
He is still the elephant in the lineup. There’s no getting around him. He’s capable of winning games with one swing, and as long as that capability is present, the fact that this is his last hurrah with the Red Sox isn’t a good thing.
No, neither Ramirez nor Pablo Sandoval would be a suitable replacement at DH. Ramirez has reached 100 RBIs only once in his career, and he has never hit 30 home runs. Sandoval was a 25/90 guy as a 22-year-old with the Giants in 2009 and hasn’t come close since.
While it was sad when Carl Yastrzemski and Jim Rice called it a career, you knew they were done, that their best years were well behind them.
Yaz hit .275 with 16 homers and 72 RBIs in 131 games in his second-to-last year, 1982, and in his finale in 1983, he hit .266 with 10 homers and 56 RBIs.
Rice hit .264 with 15 homers and 72 RBIs in 135 games in 1988, then .234 with 3 homers and 28 RBIs in 56 games in his final season of 1989.
But that’s not the case with Ortiz.
Ortiz’s batting average may have suffered as he stubbornly hits into the shift, but his contact and power have not diminished.
Think about it.
The only player in baseball to knock in 100 runs the last three years, and two of those seasons were with last-place teams.
Don’t be quick to think Ortiz’s impending retirement is a good thing because it gives opportunity to a younger player or because Ramirez can get off the field.
Ortiz’s departure is not a good thing for the Boston Red Sox.Nick Cafardo can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @nickcafardo.