By Sean McAdam
The best business deals, it's often said, are the ones in which both sides are each left somewhat unhappy. By that measure, whatever happens between the Red Sox and David Ortiz Thursday will be an unqualified success, since neither is likely to completely satisfied.
The Red Sox have until Thursday midnight to determine whether to pick up a 12.5 million option they have on Ortiz for 2011. Every indication is that the Sox, with some reservations, will exercise the option.
WHY THE RED SOX WILL BE UNHAPPY
Ortiz remains a productive hitter, having hit 32 homers with 102 RBI in 2010. But there are two troubling aspects to Ortiz.
First, he's been a very slow starter for the past two seasons. In 2008, Ortiz produced next to nothing in the first two months of the season before finding his swing at the beginning of June and salvaging his season. Last season, he hit exactly one homer and knocked in four runs in April and was reportedly within days of being released before he caught fire in May and was named the American League Player of the Month.
The Red Sox' fear, of course, is that one of these seasons, the slow start will be permanent rather than temporary, leaving them with an expensive and unproductive player.
Then there's the matter of expense.
In 2010, when Ortiz also made 12.5 million, he was easily the highest-paid DH in the American League. Among A.L. regulars, Vladimir Guerrero was next highest-paid DH at just over half (6.5 million) of Ortiz's salary.
Increasingly, American League teams no longer view the DH position as the exclusive province of a single individual (usually an aging slugger), but rather, an opportunity to mix-and-match and provide some less stressful at-bats for veteran position players.
As an example, the Yankees expected to divide up their DH at-bats between Jorge Posada, Alex Rodriguez and, assuming he's re-signed, Derek Jeter. That should keep the three veterans fresh, while enduring that the Yanks don't overpay for a one-dimensional slugger to fill the role.
WHY ORTIZ WILL BE UNHAPPY
As the 2010 season wound down, Ortiz told anybody and everybody that he would not be satisfied with the Sox merely picking up his 2010 option and that he thought he deserved a multiyear extension.
Ortiz has repeatedly said that he doesn't want to go through a repeat of the last two seasons, when every early-season at-bat turned into a referendum on his career and future with the team.
Ortiz labeled that experience a "roller-coaster'' for him and said a multiyear deal would help take the focus off the day-to-day results and allow him to concentrate on hitting.
In a perfect world, the Sox would love to re-do Ortiz's deal, paying him around 7.5-8 million in 2011 with a vesting option for 2012. But that deal carries with it its own risks for the Red Sox.
If Ortiz had a poor start to 2011, he would undoubtedly see his playing time sharply reduced. (As it is, depending on how the remainder of the roster fills out, he should expect to get fewer at-bats against lefties next year, having hit just .222 with two homers in 185 at-bats against them last year.)
And if Ortiz is benched for an extended period of time, he surely will see this as the Red Sox attempting to ensure that he doesn't get the necessary playing time or plate appearances to vest his option for 2011.
Ortiz is already making his displeasure with the option publicly known. If he feels the Sox reduced his base pay for 2011 and then further reduced his playing time, putting his 2012 salary at risk, he could become a public relations nightmare.
Should the Sox pass on the option Thursday, they would have until Saturday midnight to reach an agreement on a new deal. After that, Ortiz would be free to speak with other clubs and while the market isn't great for aging sluggers, he might find interest from the likes of Tampa Bay, Baltimore or Oakland.
As ambivalent as the Sox might be about handing out 12.5 million, they can't necessarily afford the risk of losing yet another run producer from a lineup that already stands to be without free agents Adrian Beltre and Victor Martinez.