Ortiz the big question as arbitration deadline nears

Ortiz the big question as arbitration deadline nears
November 23, 2011, 6:33 pm
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Midnight Wednesday is the deadline for teams to offer salary arbitration to their own free agents. For the Red Sox, who have eight players eligible for free agency, that should be a pretty routine call.

Of the eight free agents -- David Ortiz, Jonathan Papelbon, Jason Varitek, Dan Wheeler, J.D. Drew, Conor Jackson, Trever Miller and Tim Wakefield -- four are ranked free agents under the current system.

Papelbon and Ortiz are Type A free agents; Varitek and Wheeler are Type B free agents.

Papelbon, of course, has already signed a four-year, 50 million deal with the Philadelphia Phillies, so, after-the-fact, the Sox will offer Papelbon arbitration and get a first-round pick and sandwich pick as compensation.

Ortiz represents a more interesting call. If the Sox offer Ortiz arbitration and he accepts -- players must do so by Dec. 7 -- then the Sox run the risk of going to arbitration and having Ortiz awarded a salary somewhere between 13.5-15 million next season.

Still, though that would represent a modest raise from Ortiz's 12.5 million salary for 2011 and force the Sox to a pay huge number for a DH, it would limit the team's commitment to the 36-year-old to one season.

And, as former Red Sox GM Theo Epstein was fond of saying: "There's no such thing as a bad, one-year contract."

The cases of Wheeler and Varitek are more problematic.

The Red Sox have already opted not to pick up a 3 million team option on Wheeler. Wheeler made 3 million in 2011, meaning offering him arbitration would virtually guarantee that he would get a raise for 2012.

If the Sox weren't willing to lock him in at 3 million -- though they indicated they were open to re-signing him at a lesser figure -- why would they tie themselves to the arbitration process where Wheeler would almost certainly get more?

With Varitek, who earned 2 million as the backup catcher last year, would seem to represent too great a risk for the Sox to offer aribtration. Even a modest raise to, say, 2.5 million, would be way more than the Sox would want to pay a reserve catcher, especially with the much younger (and infinitely less expensive) Ryan Lavarnway in line for the same role.

In the unlikely event both Wheeler and Varitek were offered salary arbitration by the Sox and then signed elsewhere, the Sox would receive sandwich picks for both.