The power of Papi: Where will he finish on Sox' HR list?

The power of Papi: Where will he finish on Sox' HR list?
May 14, 2014, 1:00 pm
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MINNEAPOLIS -- When he hits his next home run -- and with two games to be played Wednesday and Thursday at Target Field, where he's hit 7 in just 12 career games, it could happen soon -- David Ortiz will pass Jim Rice and move into third place on the Red Sox all-time home run list.

That seems a given.

But what's really intriguing is whether Ortiz might someday be second in franchise history.

Let's assume that Ted Williams, with 521 career homers, is out of reach for Ortiz, who sits tied with Rice with 382 after Ortiz belted two in the Red Sox' 8-6 loss to the Minnesota Twins Tuesday night.

But Carl Yastrzemski, who has 452, would seem to be within reach for Ortiz.

Ortiz will turn 39 in November and has a guaranteed contract through the 2015 season, having agreed to an extension in spring training. That means Ortiz is, health issues aside, assured of at least another season and three-quarters, or approximately 280 games.

That would seem to be insufficient to produce another 70 homers, since it would translate into two 40-homer seasons. And Ortiz hasn't hit 40 homers since 2006.

Nor, for that matter, have many others. Last season, just two players -- Chris Davis and Miguel Cabrera -- reached the 40-homer plateau. In 2012, six players hit 40 or more. In 2011 and 2010, just two did so.

In this (mostly)-post PED era, 40 homers are tought to come by. Runs are down and so, too are homers. This year's games are featuring approximately .90 homers per game, a sharp dropoff from a decade ago when bulked-up sluggers were rocketing balls out of the park at a record-setting rate.

But remember: Ortiz has two club option years on his deal. If he continues to produce at anything close to the rate he did a year ago and again this season, it's logical to assume the Red Sox will, at the very least, pick up the 2016 option.

That would then give Ortiz nearly 450 games with which to hit another 70 homers. That translates into a rate of roughly one every 6 1/2 games, or about 25 per 162-game season.

In an admittedly small sample size to date, Ortiz's home-run ratio this season is one for every 15.1 at-bats. That's better than last year's figure of one every 17.3 at-bats and better than his career average one every 16.3. And, should Ortiz maintain that pace, the 15.1 ratio would be his best for a full season since 2006, the season in which Ortiz established a franchise record with 54 home runs.

Can Ortiz be a productive, regular player for the rest of this season and two more?

Certainly, filling the DH role will help, since it places less day-to-day stress on the body.

There's nothing to suggest his bat speed has slowed much recently. His strikeout rate of 5.4 this season is better than his career rate of 4.8 and he's putting the ball in play in 65 percent of his at-bats . . . again, slightly better than his career rate of 63.

By nearly every measure, then, Ortiz is as fearsome a power hitter as he's been for much of his career and more fearsome than most in the game.

As long as he desires to continue to play -- and Ortiz wouldn't have pushed for the club option at 40 and 41 if that hadn't been his intention -- it would seem only health could get in the way of Ortiz retiring as second only to Williams on the team's all-time home run list.