Wilfork, Ortiz and dueling contract talks

Wilfork, Ortiz and dueling contract talks
March 25, 2014, 1:45 pm
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(Note: Starting today, the Standing Room Only page will be updated with a new column every Tuesday and Friday. Thanks for reading on the daily these last few years. Looking forward to keeping the column rolling. — Rich)
Ten years is a long time.
Ten years ago today, the Curse of the Bambino was still a thing. Meanwhile, YouTube wasn’t. The iPhone was more than three years away from its initial release. Facebook was less than two months old. Xander Bogaerts was 11.
Like I said, 10 years is a long time. And as of right now, there are only three athletes who have played the last 10 or more years here in Boston.
The first is Tom Brady, who’s getting ready for his 15th (!) campaign in a Patriots uniform, and has spent his offseason doing Tom Brady things. You know, paddle surfing in the Bahamas. Playing in Pro-Ams. Screwing up high fives. Hanging on the set of the Entourage movie. Celebrating his fifth wedding anniversary with Gisele. Putting his LA mansion with a moat on the market for $50 million. Crushing speed workouts on the beach. Pretty typical stuff.
The other two decade-plus athletes are David Ortiz and Vince Wilfork, and their winters haven’t been nearly as fun. Instead, both have spent the last few months caught up in contract drama.
Ortiz had one year left on his deal, and wanted another one. He got it this week. Wilfork has one year left on his deal, and just wants to play. But the Patriots want him to play for less, and as a result, his career in New England may come to an end. But we’ll see. In the meantime, here are 10 thoughts (five each) on these two long time, legendary Boston athletes and the contract craziness swirling overhead.
1. I’ve been in favor of an extension for David Ortiz since he first brought it up (again) back in December. And now that it’s real, I’m good. Especially with the addition of a club option for two more years, which probably eliminates going through the same song and dance again next spring.
Right now, they’re only locked in to paying Ortiz $31 million over the next two seasons. That’s a million less than they’ll pay Mike Napoli. In the best-case scenario, that’s a very fair deal for a guy who’s done what Ortiz has done, and continues to do. In the worst case scenario, he gets hurt, his body falls apart, and the Sox still won’t be restricted financially. They’ll have the means to make the necessary adjustments. This isn’t Carl Crawford or Adrian Gonzalez getting the farm. It’s a fair deal for a legendary athlete, playing a position where the greats can remain effective into their 40s.
2. I’m with the player on Ortiz, but I’m with the team on Vince Wilfork. While you can understand where Vince is coming from — he signed a deal for so much money and expects to be paid what was agreed on — deep down, he knows that’s not how the NFL works. He saw this coming from the moment he signed his extension in 2010, and most certainly after tearing his Achilles tendon last September.
You have to respect a man with Wilfork’s principals, but at the same time, he can’t be naïve about it. He’s holding the Patriots to a standard that doesn’t exist in the NFL. This isn’t a case of big, bad ruthless Bill Belichick. This is the league norm. And if Vince is feeling disrespected now, I’d hate to see how he’ll feel after taking a lap around the free agent pool. Aging nose tackles with bad Achilles don’t get paid the way aging DHs with bad Achilles do.
3. One big criticism of the Ortiz extension is that he only plays well when feeling angry, disrespected and motivated, and that providing him with this kind of security will only increase the likelihood of his performance finally falling off.
I don’t agree. First of all, because history doesn’t support that claim. Ortiz signed his first big extension in April 2006 and then went out and set a career high with 54 home runs that season, and a posted a career high in hits (182), doubles (52), batting average (.332) and OPS (1.006) the season after that.
There’s this perception that Ortiz is only motivated by dollar signs. That he’ll get lazy after this latest payday. But in reality, this extra $16 million isn’t going to do all that much to change Ortiz’s lifestyle. Even before this extension, he’s made more than $100 million over his career. He’s already living the good life. It’s not about money with him, it’s about respect. Sometimes that respect comes in the form of money, which is why he wanted to be the highest paid player on the team. But money isn’t the only thing. Believe me, in spite of the extension, David Ortiz will find a way to feel disrespected. Motivation comes in many forms.
4. People will talk about the potential loss of Wilfork as a major blow to the Patriots locker room. After all, Wilfork has been one of this team’s most trusted leaders over the last handful of years. The way he stuck around the team after being injured last year was like nothing I’ve ever seen. He’s the only guy other than Brady to win a Super Bowl with the Pats, and if he’s gone, there’s no doubt that his absence will be felt.
But it’s also worth noting that Wilfork hasn’t always been a rock inside that locker room.
Back in 2009, the Patriots endured the most dysfunctional season of the Belichick Years, and many writers and reporters around that team have suggested that Wilfork had something to do with that. That his uneasy contract status affected his leadership. And listen, I’m not judging Wilfork. We all know that there are few things in the world more infuriating than feeling disrespected at work. You can understand.
But five years later, you have to wonder if Wilfork can be the presence the Patriots need unless he’s 100 percent satisfied with his salary.
5. I’ve also read/heard a few people who are unhappy with some kind of precedent the Red Sox set by kowtowing to Ortiz’s complaints and signing him earlier than they needed to. The idea is that this sends a message to other players that this is the way to do business with the Sox. Just run your mouth, and they’ll cave.
But come on. This is David Ortiz. His deal isn’t anywhere near as ridiculous as the extension that the Lakers gave Kobe Bryant, but it’s in the same spirit. Ortiz is on another level. If any future player uses Ortiz as a measuring stick, the Sox can just tell him: “Win your third World Series and we’ll talk.”
There’s no comparison.
6. Last weekend, Robert Kraft said that he wants Vince Wilfork to stay, but that means nothing. Kraft also wanted Tim Tebow to stay. At this point, if you’re a decent player, who likes to smile and has never been arrested, Robert Kraft wants you in New England.
Belichick can’t let that affect his decisions and most definitely won’t.
7. Now that the extension is done, I really hope we can all just sit back, shut up and enjoy David Ortiz.
And it might help if he’ll shut up and let us enjoy him.
8. One place I see as another good fit for Wilfork is Buffalo. Pepper Johnson’s there. Brandon Spikes is there. The Bills are building a defense that’s going to have a little extra edge every time they take on the Pats next season. I know they’re the Bills, but it’s actually a little terrifying. Wilfork would fit in perfectly up there. Pats/Bills would suddenly become the best rivalry in the division.
9. Now that Ortiz will be around for at least two more years, and as long as he’s healthy, he’ll continue his onslaught on the Red Sox record books. Of course, most of the hitting records are held by Ted Williams and Carl Yastrzemski, and it will take miracle (or enough steroids to kill a T-Rex) for Ortiz to catch those guys. But that said, he’s still within striking distance of a few franchise milestones:
Runs: Needs 104 to pass Bobby Doerr for fifth on the Sox all-time list.
Total bases: Needs 80 to pass Doerr for fifth.
Doubles: Needs 11 to pass Wade Boggs for fourth.
Home runs: Needs 19 to pass Jim Rice for third.
Stolen Bases: Needs three to pass Babe Ruth and move into a tie for 63rd.
10. Gut feeling: The Patriots and Wilfork find a way to make this work. That after some time apart, sides will have cooled down and will finally be ready to have a realistic conversation. And at that point, they’ll all agree that what’s best for Vince Wilfork is to restructure his deal and stay in New England.
And I agree. This is where he should be. After 10 long years, no one wants to see him finish his career in another uniform.
Ten years might be a long time, but that doesn’t mean it’s long enough.
Follow me on Twitter: @rich_levine