Cherington: Ortiz the 'exception to the rule'

Cherington: Ortiz the 'exception to the rule'
March 24, 2014, 3:15 pm
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SARASOTA, Fla. -- All around the American League, teams are turning away from the old business model when it comes to the designated hitter.
Instead of utilizing an aging -- and usually expensive -- slugger, most teams are rotating different players in and out of the position, thankful for the roster versatility.
Not the Red Sox.
On Monday, they announced that they were rewarding their 38-year-old DH with a one-year contract extension worth $16 million for 2014, with a vesting option for 2015 and a straight club option for 2016.
But there's a method to their madness.
"(Other) American League teams are doing that because they don't have David Ortiz,'' said general manager Ben Cherington. "If a team had David Ortiz, they wouldn't be doing that. At some point in the future, there's going to be a time when he doesn't feel like he can do what he has been doing, but we don't see that coming anytime soon.
"Right now, it's very clear that our best chance to win is to have him in middle of our lineup as our DH. It wouldn't be to our benefit to do anything else. David is an exception to the rule in many different ways. Fortunately for us and unfortunately for other teams, there aren't many exceptions to the rule, so other teams have taken a different approach at DH. But that's because they don't have David Ortiz.''
Indeed, regardless of position, Ortiz showed in 2013 that he remains among the game's elite offensive players. He finished fourth among all major leaguers in OPS (on base percentage plus $1and was one of just three players in the game to hit .300, hit 30 homers and knock in 100 runs.
Following his $15 million salary for 2014, Ortiz will make $15 million on the second year of a two-year deal signed in November of 2012.
Next season, he'll have a base salary of $16 million, and in 2016, he can guarantee himself a base of $11 million with 425 plate appearances in 2015. If Ortiz makes 600 plate appearances, he can match the $16 million base.
The Red Sox hold a straight club option for 2017.
Ortiz was happy enough with his new deal that he poked fun at his own reputation.
"I guess you guys get tired of me talking about my contract all the time,'' he said. "So at least I'm going to have some time off (from) answering questions and dealing with the contract situation. It will be more about business and just focusing on baseball and this is a big part of that.''
Ortiz has long been a favorite of ownership -- which famously once awarded him a plaque calling him the greatest clutch hitter in franchise history -- and loathed the idea of him finishing his career in another uniform.
Over the last 20 years, the Red Sox have seen a number of high-profile, long-time stars leave the club for their final few seasons elsewhere. Wade Boggs, Dwight Evans and Pedro Martinez were signature players who failed to finish their careers elsewhere.
That won't happen with Ortiz.
"We feel great that this virtually guarantees that David will finish his career with the Red Sox,'' said Cherington, "and more importantly, we feel great that David is going to be in the middle of our lineup for longer and that's really important to us.''
There are risks involved for the Red Sox, of course. Ortiz will play this season at 38 and will be 39 in 2015, a guaranteed contract year. Should be finish out both option seasons, he'll be 40 in the final year of his deal.
"In a lot of different ways,'' said Cherington, "David is an outlier, an exception to the rule. There's just not many guys who produce at the level he has at this point in their careers. So, you can't really look at it as you would normally. So you even as it relates to a contract discussion, we kind of have to look at it differently.
'What we do know is, we always go off what we've seen most recently and what we've seen most recently, in 2013, even putting the playoffs aside, was one of the best hitters in the league. We don't have any reason to believe that that's not going to continue for some period of time. There's really no comparison to make. But we go off what we see now and most recently, and that's a very good hitter and one who we believe will continue to be a very good hitter for some period of time.''
As recently as last July, when it was noted that Mariano Rivera, a contemporary, was flourishing into his 40s, Ortiz wouldn't commit to playing beyond 2014.
Now he's committed to at least two more.
"Like I told Ben when we were going through this negotiation,'' said Ortiz, "there's going to be a time when I don't feel like doing what I normally do and when that happens, everyone's going to know. Meanwhile, I feel great. I'm still hungry. I want to keep on winning. You feel great when you go out there and kick some ass and that's what I look forward to.''