BALTIMORE — The Minnesota Twins reached a crossroads with David Ortiz way back when they couldn’t even get a waiver deal for him. Scheduled to earn about $2 million in arbitration before the 2003 season, the Twins made the choice to release him and the Red Sox were there to sign him.
It’s 10 years later, but the circumstances surrounding Mike Carp sound eerily familiar. Ortiz was 27 when the Red Sox took him off waivers. Carp is 26 after being designated for assignment by the Seattle Mariners and then traded to the Red Sox.
Ortiz got his chance when Jeremy Giambi flopped and Shea Hillenbrand was traded to Arizona. Ortiz never looked back. Carp is now getting his showcase and what an impression he’s making after homering again to tie the game at 2 in a 5-4 Red Sox win over the Orioles Saturday at Camden Yards.
Carp ended the game hitting .320 with eight homers and 25 RBI in 103 at-bats. He has a 1.052 OPS and a .680 slugging percentage, which is second behind Chris Davis’s .695 among players with 100 or more plate appearances.
Carp always had someone in the way. When he was in the Mets system, it was Carlos Delgado as the first baseman. In Seattle, the Mariners committed to Justin Smoak because he had come in the Cliff Lee deal with Texas, and the Mariners wanted to justify the acquisition.
Then Carp hurt his shoulder last year and he was the forgotten man. The Mariners acquired Kendrys Morales from the Angels and Michael Morse from the Washington Nationals. The message to Carp was clear: We don’t think you’re an everyday player.
Upon his trade to Boston, Carp had a poor spring training with the bat, but he was on the Red Sox’ 40-man roster. So the Sox made the decision to keep him over Lyle Overbay, who opted out of his contract and signed with the Yankees. Amid a 0-for-21 stretch earlier this season, people wondered whether the Red Sox had made the right decision as Overbay was an early hitting star for the Yankees.
Turns out, the Red Sox did just fine. Not only have they received All-Star play from Daniel Nava, Carp has emerged as a lefthanded power threat. That’s two major players in their lineup who have come out of the blue.
Ortiz is impressed.
“He’s the real deal,” Ortiz said. “That’s all I can tell you. He’s got a great swing. He asks me a lot of questions. He always wants to know things. We hit in batting practice and we work in the same group and he doesn’t waste any swings. He has an idea of what he wants to do.”
And Ortiz gets the similarities.
“I’ve been thinking about that,” Ortiz said. “We always talk. I was picturing myself in the same situation that I walked into here. He walked into a team with a group of young guys over there [Seattle] and there’s nobody to talk to. Then he got here and every time he watches me hit, he asks questions, and then watches the way I approach things and he turns that into something good at the plate.
“I remember doing the same thing with Manny [Ramirez] and Tek [Jason Varitek] and Nomar [Garciaparra] when I first got here. I learned from that and I took off. He’s impressive.”
Ortiz certainly understands what Carp has had to go through. This is the first time he’s received a legitimate shot.
“I guess some organizations have to flip a coin,” Ortiz said. “They go with younger players. It happened to me in Minnesota. They didn’t have a spot for me. Carp is still a very young guy. He’s very talented.”
Carp said it’s all about playing time.
“It’s great to play winning baseball,” he said. “We’ve had two tough games against these guys [Orioles] and to hit a home run and get the game tied up and get the team back in the right direction is rewarding. That’s what you’re out here to do.”
“It’s just about at-bats and timing. Over a stretch of about 12 days early in the season I got only got four or five at-bats so you have trouble getting locked in,” Carp said.
But he’s impressed everyone on the team.
“I just knew playing against him that he had tremendous power,” Jacoby Ellsbury said. “It’s been impressive over here. Being in the situation he’s been in and not getting regular work, he’s done a tremendous job and he’s been a great teammate and blown the cover off the ball. He’s had a good approach, hitting for average and power, playing the outfield and first base.”
Jarrod Saltalamacchia said he remembers trying to put together a game plan for him when he caught for the Rangers.
“You’d try to bust him inside and he’d pull the ball. You then go away and he’s hitting something to the gap. There was no one way to combat him,” Saltalamacchia said. “I felt he was a good player, but he got hurt. [Seattle] toyed with him a little bit with service time. It’s nice to have someone behind you. He’s got that here.”
So you wonder, what is it that the Red Sox have?
Do they now have Daniel Nava II? Going forward, is Carp an everyday player? Is he your first baseman? Is he your left fielder?
Seattle didn’t believe Carp was an everyday player. Minnesota didn’t believe Ortiz was either. Reminiscing the last couple of days with scouts who watched Carp in spring training and are watching him now, they feel somewhat embarrassed about the reports they have had to modify.
Some of them remember Ortiz from those hungry years in Minnesota as well and raised the question, “Are the Red Sox repeating history 10 years later?”Nick Cafardo can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @nickcafardo.