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Tyler Maher | Beantown Beat

Don’t extend Ortiz (yet)

Published: Wednesday, February 12, 2014

Updated: Wednesday, February 12, 2014 09:02

David Ortiz has no problem speaking his mind, especially when he’s not happy about his contract status. Right now, he’s not happy.

Ortiz recently stirred up some controversy when he voiced concerns about his current contract, which is due to expire after the season. “Big Papi” wants it extended through 2015 and suggested that it might be “time to move on” if he doesn’t get what he wants. Ortiz has spoken, but will — should — the Boston brass listen? 

First, it’s important to remember how he got that contract in the first place. The Red Sox were quick to re-sign Ortiz following their fiasco of a season in 2012, giving him a two-year deal worth close to $30 million even though he was still recovering from a torn Achilles tendon he suffered while rounding the bases on a home run. Yeah, it was that kind of season for the Red Sox.

Ortiz wasn’t ready for Opening Day and began the 2013 season on the disabled list, but he quickly erased any doubt that age or injuries were slowing him down. Boston’s designated hitter hit from start to finish last year, batting .309/.395/.564 with 30 home runs and 103 RBI in the regular season and then dominating the postseason. Ortiz turned the ALCS around with his Game 2 grand slam and was impossible to get out in the World Series, making him an easy choice for MVP when Boston vanquished St. Louis in six games. 

You can’t blame him for trying to cash in based on that performance, especially since the Red Sox are a team with vast financial resources. But their hefty payroll doesn’t exempt them from spending wisely, and extending Ortiz is a risk they don’t need to take right now. 

It just doesn’t make much sense for Boston to commit another year and more money to Ortiz until he proves what kind of player he is in 2014. He’s 38, an age when decline can quicken and thus devastate. It’s also an age when players tend to break down, to which Big Papi is susceptible after missing almost half of 2012 and the start of 2013. The best predictors of future injuries are past injuries, so he’ll likely miss more time in 2014.

Besides, if the Sox are going to give anyone a contract extension in the near future, it should be Jon Lester. The pitching ace is going to be a free agent next winter as well and has expressed a desire to remain with Boston. He’s even willing to accept a hometown discount. Reward that guy, not the aging slugger who’s threatening to blow town if he doesn’t get what he wants.

So far, General Manager Ben Cherington hasn’t given in to Ortiz’s demands, but he hasn’t rejected them, either. He might make an offer during spring training to placate Papi, or he could wait until summer, once he sees where the team stands and how its designated hitter is holding up. If both are playing well, then extending Ortiz becomes a much easier decision.

That’s probably his best bet. Because if Cherington plays hardball and waits until the offseason, he runs the risk of other teams driving up Ortiz’s asking price and outbidding Boston for him. Nobody wants to see Papi playing for the Yankees next year because they made him an offer he couldn’t refuse.

The Red Sox have all season to negotiate with Ortiz, so they shouldn’t rush to extend him now. Instead, they should be focused on spring training and getting ready to defend their title. 

Tyler is a junior who is majoring in economics. He can be reached at Tyler.Maher@tufts.edu

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