Ninth in a series examining
the Red Sox roster
There will be an October chill in the air and Fenway Park will be full, the fans screaming for the Red Sox to win a playoff game, when David Ortiz steps to the plate for the final time in his career.
At least that is how Big Papi envisions it. When Ortiz announced in November that he would retire after the coming season, the only goal in mind was doing what he could to make his last game an important one.
At 40, Ortiz has reached most every statistical milestone in his grasp and been a key member of three World Series champions. His legacy is in place no matter what happens from here. By 2022, Ortiz could be headed for the Hall of Fame.
“I want to win, that’s really all that matters at this point,” Ortiz said in December. “I’ve pretty much done all I can in this game. I feel like I’m ready for the last chapter. Hopefully we’re playing for something at the end.”
It speaks to the state of the Red Sox, who have finished last two consecutive seasons, that Ortiz remains one of their best and most consistent hitters even on the verge of retirement. He led the team in OPS last season and only 22-year-old Xander Bogaerts played more games.
Designated hitter has been a position of strength since Ortiz arrived as a free agent in 2003 and should remain so for at least another season.
Ortiz certainly shows little sign of slowing down. He has missed only 61 games over the last three seasons while hitting .281 with a .915 OPS. Since turning 37, Ortiz has averaged 34 home runs and 105 RBIs a season. He hit .273 with a .913 OPS, 37 homers, and 108 RBIs in 2015.
“Still the same player, the same presence in the middle of the lineup,” manager John Farrell said. “It’s hard to think of our team without him. We have to treasure this final season.”
Ortiz has been the team’s primary designated hitter since 2003. In those 13 years, the Red Sox have received 43.6 WAR from their DHs, the most in baseball. The Yankees are second at 26.3.
WAR (Wins Over Replacement) measures how many wins a player has been worth to his team.
Led by Ortiz, the Red Sox have a .919 OPS from the DH spot since 2003. No other team is within 100 points of that.
Other than Albert Pujols, no player has more home runs than Ortiz since 2003, and only Pujols and Miguel Cabrera have more doubles and RBIs or a higher OPS.
Historically, Ortiz is the most accomplished DH the game has known. He has the most hits, doubles, home runs, RBIs, walks, runs, total bases, plate appearances, and games at the position.
Ortiz has 503 home runs in all, 27th all time. Another 19 would put him 19th. In terms of Red Sox history, Ortiz is third with 445 home runs. Only Hall of Famers Ted Williams (521) and Carl Yastrzemski (452) have more.
Ortiz is 16 doubles shy of joining Hank Aaron and Barry Bonds as the only players in history with 500 home runs and 600 doubles.
All that is left now is to make his season a meaningful one from a team standpoint.
Ortiz is happy with the job president of baseball operations Dave Dombrowski did to improve the pitching staff, particularly the addition of lefthander David Price. He sees the Red Sox returning to contention.
“It’s always about the pitching, and our pitching looks better,” said Ortiz. “[Price] is legit. I’m going to hit a lot of home runs for that guy and he’s going to help all of us.”
The Red Sox have plenty of DH depth behind Ortiz. Hanley Ramirez, allegedly the new first baseman, has hit .316 with 6 home runs and 21 RBIs in 107 plate appearances as a designated hitter in his career. Five of those home runs came last season.
On those days when Ortiz gets rest, Ramirez is a good option to replace him, with the Red Sox putting a better defender at first base. Once Ortiz retires, Ramirez could become the full-time DH. That role would appear to suit his skill set.
Backup outfielder Chris Young also could get some at-bats as the DH. He has an .837 career OPS against lefthanded pitchers, and Ortiz had the lowest OPS of his career (.703) against lefties last season. Against a particularly tough lefthander, Young will be in the lineup somewhere.
Travis Shaw, who had 13 home runs in 226 at-bats as a rookie last season, is another candidate.
The Red Sox do not have much DH-type power in the minor leagues. Bryce Brentz, a former supplemental first-round pick, has 91 homers in the minor leagues but has struggled to stay healthy in recent seasons. Brentz, who turned 27 last week, needs a strong 2016 season to remain in the team’s plans in even a reserve capacity.
Primary 2015 starter: David Ortiz.
Expected 2016 starter: David Ortiz.
Major league depth: Hanley Ramirez, Chris Young, Travis Shaw.
Prospects to watch: Bryce Brentz.