What’s the worst that can happen?
That’s a reasonable place to start a discussion surrounding the pros and cons of just about any given action. So, that’s where we’ll start on the topic of David Ortiz, his request for a contract extension, and whether or not the Red Sox should grant it.
Actually, first, here’s a little background on the issue, which Ortiz made public last week at his annual charity golf tournament in the Dominican Republic. Maybe you’ve heard it already. Maybe you missed it while preparing your bunker for Saturday’s storm. Either way, here’s Papi:
"My lawyers are talking with the Red Sox to see if we can get another year, and we'll see what happens later," he told reporters. "Maybe I'll play another year or two more years. I'm at a stage where I'll play depending on how I feel physically. Looking at Cano's deal and the rest of the boys that came only yesterday to the big leagues, signing those contracts, one says, 'that's why we’re here.' "
Ortiz was then asked about the option of waiting until after the 2014 season, when his current deal expires, to start negotiating his next one. He replied:
“What for? You know what’s going to happen if I’m healthy and good to go. I just hate the situation where I have to sit down at the end of the year and talk about my following year. Let’s do it now. We’re world champs right now.”
OK, so there’s the background. Next, a little contract context.
Despite his reference to deals signed by Robinson Cano and "the rest of the boys" who just came into the big leagues yesterday (or 10 years ago), Ortiz isn’t looking for that kind of contract. Obviously. Even though, statistically, 2013 was arguably one of the best seasons of his 17-year career. Even though he delivered a playoff performance for the ages and posted a World Series stat line that you’d be hard pressed to recreate in a video game against your grandmother. Even with the three rings he’s helped bring to Boston and the legacy that he’ll leave in Boston and the statue that will someday (and forever) grace the grounds outside Fenway Park, let’s give Ortiz the benefit of the doubt and assume that he’ll approach these negotiations with a solid grasp on and respect for the Sox' situation -- and a heavy dose of reality surrounding his own. Basically, that he’s not looking for anything far beyond the $15 million he’s set to make next year. That, at the very most, his demands will top out at $20 million. And that, given what he said down in the DR, he’ll only ask for one more year. Maybe two.
And now, let’s bring back that original question:
So, the Red Sox sign David Ortiz to an extension —
What’s the worst that can happen?
Answer: He breaks down. Maybe it happens this season. Maybe it happens next season. But either way, it happens. He finally tears his Achilles. He’s finally overcome by back problems. Something clicks inside that 38ish-year-old body and it not only leaves Ortiz at less than 100 percent but renders him physically incapable of playing baseball. So, he goes on the DL. And because we’re talking worst-case scenario, he stays there. He never comes back. Ortiz never sees another October in a Red Sox uniform, and the team ultimately sees little to no on-field return on their investment.
Another less-drastic, but potentially more depressing version of the story sees the injuries take a more deliberate toll on Ortiz’s body and production. The Achilles and the back and whatever else just nag him like hell. It’s a trip to the DL here. Another one there. And in between, struggle and frustration. It’s 2008 and 2009 and 2010 all over again. Ortiz is ornery. The media is relentless. And the whole scene’s about as enjoyable as the thought of sharing a bubble bath with John Henry.
Gross. And it would be. That’s the risk of extending David Ortiz at this stage of his career. It’s the same risk that existed last year around this time, when the Sox signed him for two-years and $26 million.
But last season proved that the risk is worth it.
And if it was worth it last year, on the heels of Ortiz missing nearly half the season with any Achilles injury, when he arrived at Spring Training still unable to run the bases and started the year on the DL, it’s worth it now. Which is why the Sox should extend him. In the words of Teddy KGB, they need to pay dat man heese money. There are very few athletes in Boston who have earned the right to splash the pot, but Ortiz is one of them. He can splash the pot whenever the hell he pleases.
Of course, not everyone agrees. And most who disagree, disagree on principle. How dare Ortiz run his mouth! Especially after the two sides reportedly swore not to discuss (at least publicly) an extension until after this one was over.
Detractors believe that Ortiz should just shut up, do his job, take his $15 million and deal with his next contract when it’s time to deal with his next contract — aka next winter.
But you know what? That’s easy to say from the outside. From the perspective that all these guys are insanely overpaid and automatically ungrateful for daring to ask for more money when they’ve already made more (and for playing baseball!) than the vast majority of us could ever dream. But even though that stance is undoubtedly grounded in reality, professional sports are not reality. We know this. We have to accept this or spend a lifetime bitching about an issue that will literally never change. But in the case of Ortiz, in the unrealistic fantasy world of Major League Baseball, sometimes things do change.
Sometimes the Sox come out of nowhere and win a World Series. Sometimes David Ortiz exceeds every expectation on the table and raises an already legendary career to levels unseen throughout Red Sox history. And considering how much things did change, come on, can you blame the guy for wanting a little more security and peace of mind? For wanting to show up at Spring Training with nothing else weighing on his psyche? For believing that he deserves it?
After all, he’s human. Maybe he’d be able to put his pending free agency on the back burner in February and April, but come August or September or ideally October, it will be impossible to ignore. He’ll worry. It will affect him. And Ortiz has earned the right not to worry. He earned it this past October alone. He’s earned it for more than a decade here in Boston.
He believes that he deserves an extension? Well, good. Because he’s right.
As long as he isn’t asking for a dollar amount that exceeds the value of his most recent production or a level of commitment that ignores his age, Ortiz deserves that peace of mind. The Sox should be ready and willing to provide it. And they can do so without the fear that they’re setting a dangerous precedent. They’ll never have to worry about facing a situation down the line when another player says, “Well, you did it for Ortiz, so why won’t you do it for me?” That’s because there’s no comparison. There isn’t another David Ortiz. This is a once-in-a-generation situation for a once-in-a-generation talent. A once-in-a-generation personality. If titles are the name of the game, we’re talking about the most significant player in more than 100 years of Boston Red Sox baseball.
And again, what’s the worst that can happen?
Let’s say he gets hurt. This year or next year. At that point, the Sox will act accordingly. They’ll look at the injury, decide whether Ortiz can be counted on, and if the answer is no, they’ll make other arrangements. They’ll have the means to do so.
That’s the most important thing to remember about any extension that might come Ortiz’s way. It won’t mark a change in philosophy. It’s not the first step in a return to the haphazard spending that would have crippled the franchise if not for Magic Johnson and the Dodgers. It’s not seven years/$142 million for Carl Crawford. It’s not seven years/$154 million for Adrian Gonzalez. It’s one year. Maybe two. The Sox could sign Ortiz to a one-year/$20 million extension tomorrow, and his CAREER earnings in Boston would come to a total of $146M over 13 years.
That’s it. That’s a bargain. And even in that worst-case scenario, regardless of the price tag, an Ortiz extension won’t remotely affect Boston’s ability to wheel and deal on the open market.
If he goes down? They can find another DH. Or move Mike Napoli to DH and find another first baseman. They can still spend big on a worthy player in free agency. Or when the trade deadline approaches, whether it’s 2014 or 2015, they can dip into their vastly improved and increasingly deep farm system and make a move that fills the void. At that point, they’ll already be looking for the DH of the future, anyway. They know Ortiz can’t play forever. If they need Player X a little earlier than expected, they can go get him, and without any financial limitations.
In this case, reality is far from ideal, but far from doomed.
On the flip side, what’s the best that can happen?
Well, that’s easy.
We just lived it.
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