It can be difficult for even the best professional athletes to end their careers while still playing at least reasonably well.
Look at what Peyton Manning is going through now with the Denver Broncos, throwing wobbly passes and getting benched on Sunday. Jorge Posada got dropped to ninth in the lineup by the Yankees in his final season and took himself out of a game in May rather than be embarrassed. Roy Halladay had a 6.82 earned run average for the Phillies in 2013.
Even Derek Jeter played like a guy who had stuck around one year too long in 2014, posting the lowest OPS of his career.
Around the Red Sox, that has long been the fear for David Ortiz. What if he declined so precipitously that John Farrell had to drop him down the lineup or even out of it all together?
Worse, what would happen if Ortiz had a down season and then demanded a new contract? Would the Red Sox owners just let him go?
Ortiz’s pride is such that a bad ending to his tenure with the Red Sox seemed almost inevitable.
The news on Tuesday that Ortiz will retire after the coming season should solve at least some of those problems and make for an easier transition for both team and player.
By announcing his plans now, Ortiz avoids questions that would have started the first day of spring training. He also clears his mind of wondering about his contract status because there is none. He is signed for 2016, he will make $16 million and that is that.
The only statistical milestones remaining are minor ones. Ortiz needs eight home runs to pass Carl Yastrzemski for second in team history but now has no chance at the 77 needed to pass Ted Williams. He already has 500 career home runs, too. His place in history is secure.
There could be problems, especially if Ortiz slumps. But he should be able to enjoy the season knowing retirement is around the corner.
Ortiz was the team’s best offensive player last season. He led the Sox in OPS by a large margin and only Xander Bogaerts played more games. Even at 40, there’s a good chance he remains a productive hitter. The Bill James Handbook predicts Ortiz to hit .262/.358/.488 with 28 homers and 93 RBIs.
This actually could end well. Given all he has done for Boston, Ortiz deserves it.
A few other thoughts on Ortiz:
■ Ortiz did the Red Sox a favor by making this announcement so quickly. President of baseball operations Dave Dombrowski now knows he has $16 million coming off the payroll and can plan accordingly.
That could make it easier for the Red Sox to invest big dollars in a premier starting pitcher. That’s a lot of payroll coming off the books.
■ Does this change the team’s evaluation of Hanley Ramirez?
Ramirez is signed for three more years with a vesting option for 2019. With Ortiz retiring, the Red Sox could use Ramirez as their designated hitter for at least two years if not three.
Ramirez is a far more attractive player as a DH than he is as a first baseman.
Yes, ideally the Red Sox will find a way to trade Ramirez. They’re probably better off without him, certainly in the short term. But it could be little less painful to play Ramirez at first base in 2016 knowing he’ll move to DH in ’17.
There is no replacing Ortiz. As colleague Alex Speier pointed out, his production at DH far outstrips what most teams receive. But Ramirez could supply a decent percentage of what Ortiz did, albeit at a much higher cost given the $66 million he has guaranteed over the next three seasons.
■ For a solid 90 percent of Red Sox fans, Ortiz is an icon. They appreciate what he accomplished, particularly the three championships. You can make a case that people around here would still be grousing about 1918 and the Curse of the Bambino if not for Ortiz.
But there is an anti-Ortiz faction of fans. Some are racist crackpots given their crude emails and Twitter messages. But there are well-meaning fans who are offended by Ortiz watching his home runs or how gleefully he curses. Every year, emails arrive upset that he leaves the top two buttons on his jersey undone. Seriously.
It would be interesting to check back on those folks in a few years when they realize how different the Red Sox will be without him.
The Red Sox will surely be competitive once he retires. But Ortiz’s presence in the lineup and in the clubhouse makes life easier for his teammates. Think of all the playoff games that appeared lost until he came up in the later innings and delivered the big hit.
Remember the entertainment value, too. Ortiz coming up to the plate is a moment worth your attention. There are only a handful of players like that.
■ The guess here is Ortiz makes the Hall of Fame, but not on the first ballot. With the five-year waiting period, Ortiz will not come up for election until 2021. Plenty is going to happen in the next six years that will impact his chances of election.
Ortiz has been tied to PEDs and some voters will exclude him automatically based on that. But that pool of intractable voters is shrinking. If players like Mike Piazza or Jeff Bagwell are inducted, excluding Ortiz will be difficult to justify.
We’re going to know a lot more about Ortiz’s chances in 2019 than we do now.
■ A few readers sent emails wondering if Ortiz deciding to retire might make it easier to sign free-agent lefthander David Price. Ortiz and Price have been at odds before and exchanged harsh words.
It’s a good question but probably not too relevant. Ortiz wants to win and he knows the Red Sox need an ace. Whatever Ortiz might feel about Price, he would like seeing him start every five days. Ortiz would like nothing more than to go out a winner.
As for Price, he’ll sign with the team that makes him the best offer. All the rest is just nonsense. If Price were to sign with the Red Sox, there would be photos of him hugging Ortiz on the second day of spring training.
■ What will a post-retirement Ortiz do? He did pre- and post-game analysis during the 2014 World Series for Fox and was pretty good. Ortiz also could land one of those “special assistant” jobs that went to Pedro Martinez and Jason Varitek.
If he wrote a book and was unflinchingly honest about everything that happened over the years, it would be a bestseller.