David Ortiz has appeared on these "pages" more than just about any other player. For four straight years there was the ongoing debate about whether the Red Sox should extend him or not. At the beginning of that run, the answer was always no because of his size and his age. And sure enough, and with wisdom, the Red Sox kept bringing him back with only one year contracts. This off season, I refrained from my usual speculation, probably because the Red Sox made their decision early and for the first time, extended him two seasons instead of one. This break from their status quo on Ortiz might come back to haunt them.
David Ortiz is not playing this spring. In fact, he is just gingerly running around the bases. The Achilles tendon he hurt at the end of 2011 is still giving him problems. There are new reports now that he will not be ready for opening day. There are other reports that he is currently 260 pounds. All of which add up to a great big deal of concern that the greatest designated hitter of his era could be a loud non-factor this season.
Ortiz was never really well last season. After he hit the ball, watching him run the bases was downright painful. Every time I saw him, I half expected him to collapse in a heap. While he never did, he only played ninety games and as it became clear the Red Sox were stuck in the mud for the 2012 season, Ortiz shut it down completely.
The expectation was that he would come back this season and be healthier. But he is not. He seems to be in the same place as he was last year when the season ended. He is not as young as Ryan Howard, who has also returned from a similar injury. Howard may never be the same again either, but Howard has done a good job at taking care of himself and keeping as much pressure off his legs as possible. Ortiz looks like a caricature of Babe Ruth except he doesn't have the spindly legs.
Fortunately for the Red Sox, they picked up Mike Napoli in the off season. Napoli can replace some of Ortiz's production if Ortiz was to miss an extended period of time. But using Napoli at the DH position weakens the Red Sox' offense because it means Daniel Nava or Mike Carp will have to play first base. The Red Sox are infinitely scarier with both Ortiz in the lineup with Napoli and a lot less scary with one of them out.
Ortiz's leg problems did not affect his ability to hit last year, which is surprising. A hitter gets much of his torque from the lower body. But when Ortiz was able to hit, he creamed the ball. His 1.026 OPS in his 383 plate appearances was remarkable, especially in this day and age of pitching and computer-fed fielding positioning. His hitting hearkened back to his salad days of 2006 and 2007.
There is not a concern that Ortiz can still hit. Whatever ailed his hitting in 2009 has been long gone and his numbers have been superb from 2010 onward. But he has to be able to run after he hits the ball. If it was just a bum knee, then that is one thing. But an Achilles tendon is debilitating when injured and Ortiz looks debilitated. How did he pass a physical?
I should have written about Ortiz after the season last season. I should have had a fifth year of, "should the Sox sign him," but I missed the boat. After a 90 game season last year, I would have either said no or another one year contract. The Red Sox felt they had to make a statement after such a horrid season and Ortiz's two year extension was such a statement. It may turn out to be one which should never have been uttered.