When you come right down to it, the Red Sox didn't really have much of a choice. We got a glimpse of life without David Ortiz in the second half of last season, and talk about ugly . . .
Once the megtrade with Los Angeles was complete, the Ortiz-less Sox were bereft of middle-of-the-order bats. Unless you wanted to head into 2013 with Cody Ross- and Mauro Gomez-types at the Nos. 4 and 5 spots -- and it's safe to say we got our fill of that last September -- they had to either re-sign Ortiz or find a hitter of his caliber elsewhere. With so many other holes to fill this offseason, it made the most sense to follow the path of least resistance and bring back Big Papi.
Was it the right move? Well, let's go to the checklist:
AGE: Negative. He turns 37 -- at least -- in two weeks, and he's approaching the time of baseball life when skills begin to fade. And sometimes very quickly.
INJURY HISTORY: Negative. Bobby Valentine got killed for bringing it up to Bob Costas, but give the devil his due: We were told this Achilles problem wasn't a long-term thing, and instead it shelved Ortiz for all but one game from July 16 to the end of the year. In typical passiveaggressive Bobby V. fashion, he hinted -- and then piously denied -- that a probably-could-have-returned-to-the-lineup Ortiz shut things down when the season went into the toilet, but that certainly doesn't seem to be the case; Ortiz was still hobbling around in October, and even underwent an ultrasound treatment that put him in another walking boot the Monday after the last game.
The Sox, and Ortiz himself, continue to insist he'll be 100 percent come spring training. There's no reason to doubt it . . . but until we see him running freely and pain-free in Fort Myers, how can you be sure?
PLAYING SKILLS: Positive. After an alarming dip in 2008-09 that, in retrospect, can probably be traced to the wrist injury he suffered in '08, Ortiz has performed in recent years at levels befitting a 14 million player. His OPS-plus of 171 last season -- granted, in only 90 games -- tied his career high, and his batting (.318), on-base (.415) and slugging (.611) percentages were all the highest they'd been since 2007. And if you're worried about the small sample size, his 2011 full-season numbers of .309.398.554 weren't that far off.
Alex Speier of weei.com did some great research today comparing Ortiz to the 70 other players who complied an OPS-plus of 130 or more between the ages of 32 and 36, and found the vast majority of them maintained their value remarkably well as they got older. Ortiz may get hurt -- Speier said "durability is many ways the greater concern than performance" with the study group, which makes sense since older players are more injury-prone -- but if he doesn't, the chances of him falling off to a .260, 15-homer season are almost nil.
LEADERSHIP: Positive. Yes, he's been a pain in the butt about his contract status over the last few years and, yes, he's managed to come across as ultra-sensitive, selfish and petty at times. But David Ortiz a) takes enormous pride in being a member of the Red Sox, b) loves the area and the fans, and c) has shown a willingness to hold teammates' feet to the fire. Now that he's been rewarded with the multiyear contract he so desperately craved -- to him, a symbol of respect from ownership -- he'll probably be more willing to step back to the forefront, publicly anyway, in the clubhouse.
BUSINESS-WISE: Extremely positive. The Red Sox are in very bad odor with their audience right now, and jettisoning a folk hero like Big Papi to save a few bucks -- especially since they're flush with cash in the post-Dodger era -- would have been an NHL-like P.R. move of self-immolation.
And then there's this: There's a perception, deserved or otherwise, that the Red Sox aren't real smooth about parting ways with their stars. No one's done more for this franchise than David Ortiz over the last 10 years, and another messy breakup would have sent a message -- both inside and outside the organization -- that this isn't a player-friendly place. The HenryWernerLucchino troika worked hard to erase that stain during the early part of their stewardship, but losing Ortiz would have indelibly marked them as being worthy followers of the Haywood SullivanDan Duquette, alienate-the-troops tradition. Bringing Ortiz back helps rebuild that part of their broken reputation.
So when you add it all up, the positives far outweigh the negatives.
Could it backfire? Sure. But with all we know right now, the Sox did the proper thing.
It was a good move. The right move. And now it frees Ben Cherington to roll up his sleeves and get to the real work of rebuilding the Red Sox.