Monday October 17, 2011
MLB reports – Jonathan Hacohen: With the World Series all set to commence on Wednesday (Cardinals and Rangers)- our attention is slowly shifting to the upcoming free agency period. A big name (literally) of discussion has been David Ortiz, or better known in baseball circles as “Big Papi”. The rumor mill is running wild as to where Ortiz will play in 2012. Let’s shed some light on the subject and clear up the confusion.
The soon to be 36-year old Ortiz is coming off one of his finest seasons in recent memory. Papi finished with a steady all-around season: 29 home runs, 96 RBIs, 84 runs, 78/83 BB/K, .309 AVG and .953 OPS. Ortiz was named to his 7th all-star team and finishing up a 5-year, $64.5 million contract. For a player that appeared to be in decline back in 2009, Ortiz has shown the last two seasons that he has some juice left in the tank. But with the Red Sox in shambles, given the departure of long-time manager Terry Francona and soon to be ex-GM Theo Epstein, Ortiz himself has said that Boston has become too much of a soap opera. The question on every baseball fan’s mind: will he stay or will he go?
The Ortiz decision to stay in Boston will largely depend on several factors. Firstly, it is unclear whether the team wishes to retain him or go in a different direction. As an aging team with hitters that could use the rest from playing in the field every day, the Red Sox may not longer wish to commit the DH spot to one exclusive batter. Taking that into account with Papi’s streaks and slumps that past few years and recent comments, may be enough for the Red Sox upper management to wish to move on. But if the team does wish to retain him, or give in to fan pressure to keep Ortiz (which is likely to come given his immense popularity), will Papi himself want to remain in Boston? Only the man could answer that question. To know the answer, one would have to get into the player’s head. Does Otiz get along with his teammates or are there divided fractions? How much did the 2011 collapse take a toll on his morale? When will a new GM come into place and will he be able to have a good relationship with Ortiz? Same issue for a new manager…and you get the idea. There are many variables that put into question whether Ortiz could or would stay in Boston.
In my estimation, Ortiz is on his final contract. He will likely obtain a 2-year contract, with an option for a third. Based on his rich history and legacy in Boston, I think that when push comes to shove- the player will stay. Boston needs Papi; and Papi needs Boston. It would not feel right to see Ortiz in another uniform (check out highlights from his days in Minnesota and you will see what I mean). Major League Baseball also would love to see Ortiz remain in Boston for marketing purposes. With so many vested interests in getting this deal done, I believe it will happen. But what if it does not? What if Papi jumps ship? I see his options as far and few between.
The first option that jumped out was the Yankees. It will not happen. While the Yankees would love to stick it to Boston, they will not likely want another aging DH on their hands after the Jorge Posada fiasco this past season. The Yankees also have Alex Rodriguez, Derek Jeter, Mark Teixeira and company that need days off the field, A-Rod especially given his failing health. With A-Rod becoming a part-time DH as soon as next year, the Yankees cannot afford to take on Papi at this stage. Plus the team has up-and-coming superstar Jesus Montero that needs playing time and has nothing more to prove in AAA. So the Yankees rate as a no.
The next options for Ortiz? It will only be American League teams as he is only a DH at this stage of his career. The only realistic teams that have the open position and fit are Toronto, Tampa Bay and Anaheim. The Jays are being thrown around many circles as a possible destination. It makes sense for several reasons. Ortiz knows the ballpark well from his AL East days. He gets along well with Jose Bautista and would serve as a great mentor for the Jays young hitters. Toronto was missing production last season from the DH spot and would welcome Papi’s bat. But despite these factors, I don’t see this signing happening. Ortiz will want to play on a contender and fight for another ring. His career is winding down and so are his chances. While Toronto has a strong young nucleus, they are at least 2-3 years aways. As much as this would be a feel-good signing, I would rate is as another no.
Thus the battle for the services of David Ortiz will boil down to the Tampa Bay Rays and Anaheim Angels. Two strong playoff contending teams that desperately need his bat. Tampa Bay should be the favorite, given the familiarity of the AL East and the strong need of the team. The Rays have the lineup spot for Ortiz and should make a big push for him. The Angels have the same need, but not the best fit for position. The team has a logjam in the outfield with Mike Trout likely to be with the big club next year and Kendrys Morales returning to the team from injury. But when there is a will, there is a way. Like many other squads, the Angels would need to do some creative shuffling to make room for Ortiz. Vernon Wells may need to be moved for a bad pitcher’s contract in return (Carlos Zambrano anyone?) Kendrys Morales may not be recovered or Trout may not be ready. The Angels went through a desperate need all year in 2011 for runs and will not want to face the same issue come 2012. Papi could be the perfect short-term solution for the Halos.
The four-horse race to sign David Ortiz will come down to the Red Sox, Jays, Rays and Angels. The Rays are my dark horse favorite and best overall fit. The Jays would love to take him on, it will just depend on the confidence Papi has in the team’s ability to compete. Boston will hang in right till the end and the Angels will need to be aggressive to get him. If we are playing the odds, I would rate Boston as a 70% favorite, followed by Tampa Bay at 20% and the Jays/Angels at 5% each. Once the World Series ends, let the David Ortiz sweepstakes begin!
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