In defense of David Ortiz
Ask and you shall receive, or if you’re Red Sox slugger David Ortiz, ask about a contract extension and you shall receive criticism, ridicule, and indignation for daring to ask.
It’s hard to remember that Red Sox pitchers and catchers report to Fort Myers. Fla., in less than 10 days (Feb. 15 ) for spring training as you’re wielding a snow shovel and scraper. But Ortiz’s contract push figures to be near the top of the snow bank of Sox story lines.
Ortiz has drawn the ire of some Red Sox fans and media members this winter for having the gall to repeatedly express his desire for a one-year contract extension with a year still remaining on the two-year pact he signed in November of 2012. Ortiz made $15 million last season, and is on the books for another $15 million this season.
Sometimes athletes just can’t win. Failure to express unequivocal desire to stay with a team beyond your current contract brands you disloyal, selfish, and greedy. Expressing a clear preference to stay with a team before your contract is up makes you insolent, selfish, and greedy.
Why is it an affront to good taste for Ortiz to try to capitalize on the good will and good numbers he generated in 2013, when he was World Series MVP and reinforced his position as Fenway’s endearing expletive-uttering, run-producing éminence grise?
It’s just good business.
The Red Sox are under zero obligation to extend Ortiz’s contract as some kind of lifetime achievement award. It’s perfectly natural to be wary of extending the commitment to a 38-year-old designated hitter with bad knees and Achilles’ tendon issues.
Then there is the performance-enhancing drug conjecture that will hover over Ortiz until he is able to produce a reason why his name was on a 2003 list of players who tested positive for PEDs.
I wouldn’t give him the extra year at $15 million-plus, unless it was incentive-laden.
But I don’t begrudge the big man for trying to get another year on his deal.
It’s baffling why so many would be offended that Ortiz would use the same leveraging and business techniques that professional sports teams use all the time.
It’s not like there is going to be some city-wide tax imposed to pay for the additional year of Ortiz’s contract.
Nothing is guaranteed for a 38-year-old athlete, even one as beloved and revered as Ortiz, the hero of the Sox’ cathartic 2004 World Series run. His stature didn’t matter when the team nearly released him when he was scuffling in the early part of 2010.
If Ortiz can leverage a season in which he hit .309 with 30 home runs and 103 runs batted in and then posted a .353 batting average, an MLB-best five home runs, and a 1.206 OPS (on-base percentage plus slugging) in the postseason, as the Sox restored the faith, into another year of employment in the twilight of his career (where have I heard that before?) then good for him.
Teams do this all the time, try to leverage a player or take advantage of changing market conditions. The Red Sox did it last year when they built their World Series contending team.
Mike Napoli’s physical revealed a degenerative hip condition, and suddenly his three-year, $39-million deal shrank to a one-year, $5 million prove-it deal with $8 million of incentives.
It’s the way the business part of the game is played, something Ortiz alluded to in his now infamous interview with WBZ-TV (Ch. 4) on Jan. 26.
Ortiz clearly stated in the interview he would like to finish his career with the Red Sox before saying:
“But as I always keep on telling people this is a business. Sometimes you’ve got to do what’s best for you and your family.”
“As long as they keep offering me a job, and I keep doing what I’m supposed to do and the relationship keeps on building up, I’m going to be there. Hopefully, I won’t have to go and wear another uniform.”
That’s not exactly Ty Law calling Bill Belichick a liar.
There have been far more ominous and acrimonious pleas for a contract than Ortiz’s pay-me pitch on WBZ.
Yet, you would have thought Ortiz was holding up Fenway Park like the denouement of the “The Town” based on the reaction.
If Big Papi was trying to use public sentiment to pressure the Red Sox it has backfired.
Ortiz tweeted a post-workout picture of himself on Monday, tweeting “Finishing my workout to have another monster season for all those media hater that still doubting!!!”
Saying Ortiz is sensitive to public criticism is like saying Napoleon Bonaparte was insecure about his height. It’s his metier.
There are two ways to evaluate Ortiz’s worth. One is to temper his contributions by simply saying he is a DH with a limited market and no real leverage. The other viewpoint is to say he is a run-producing, productive power bat on a short-term, affordable contract.
I’ll take the latter.
Ortiz was one of just three players in baseball last season to bat over .300, hit 30 or more home runs, and drive in 100 or more runs. The other two were Miguel Cabrera of the Detroit Tigers and Paul Goldschmidt of the Arizona Diamondbacks.
He owned October and the St. Louis Cardinals, batting an absurd .688 with a .760 on-base percentage. St. Louis just gave up by Game 6, walking Ortiz four times, three intentionally.
That’s just looking at him as a baseball player, never mind his value as personality and spokesman.
How the Sox value Ortiz is up to them. But condemning him for playing hardball off the field is off base.
All is fair in love, war, and sports contract negotiations.