Last season, David Ortiz became relevant again. It was quite the surprise. And since it has been a tradition in this spot each year to ponder what the Red Sox should do with David Ortiz, such a post was written way back in November. Recently it was announced that the Red Sox and Big Papi have reached a deal to avoid arbitration. The announcement made it kind of fun to go back to those November musings. According to the announcement, Ortiz will be compensated to the tune of $14.6 million for 2012. That's about a million and a half more than what November's post recommended but at least the Red Sox were wise to resist a multiple year deal. So, well done, Mr. Cherington.
As the November post indicated, it is unlikely that Ortiz will earn his contract. And stating that seems like a contradiction to the first paragraph. But it's not really. Sometimes you have to go with a situation that is good for your ball club despite perhaps a bad value judgement on a player's worth. The Red Sox with David Ortiz in the line up in 2012 is simply a better line up than without him. Heading into his thirty-seventh year makes Ortiz a long shot to reproduce what he did last year. And no projection system consulted predicts that he will.
David Ortiz put up a slash line last year of .309/.398/.554. As noted in the November piece, Ortiz hit lefties and inside fastballs again like he did in the past. He cut down on his strikeouts. His season was among the biggest surprises in baseball. All the projections predict he will be more in the .277/.378/.515 range in 2012. That's still potent production at the designated hitter position that few teams will be able to match. With the injury to Martinez in Detroit, no other contending team has a weapon like that in their arsenal. Frankly, the projections seem a bit optimistic, but the thoughts here remain the same: The Red Sox line up will be better with David Ortiz than without him.
But that fact remains that David Ortiz is a risk. As we saw in the early stages of 2009 and 2010, what Ortiz does well can disappear just as fast. By resisting a multiple year offer, the Red Sox have continued to protect themselves from an older player suddenly declining past the reclamation point. And by signing the deal at below Ortiz's asking point in an arbitration deal probably saved them a few million if Ortiz would have won his case. In the end, the Red Sox probably paid more than market value. But the move was a wise one.
There is no doubt that David Ortiz could have one more good season in him. If he does, the Red Sox will be that much tougher to beat. If he doesn't, the Red Sox haven't sunk a cost beyond the upcoming season. Well done. Well done, indeed.