I would like to start out by defending Ortiz for a moment. I think the scrutiny his every at bat gets due to last year’s slow start is unfair. The large majority of the fan base, media, and analysts seem to be ready to throw in the towel. After 26 at bats, I think this is absurd. You must give Ortiz at least a month, possibly until mid May, to come around because if he does he is too valuable to let go. I think people are still bitter about a bad start last year and a playoff sweep in the first round. Calm down Red Sox nation, its April, there is plenty of baseball to be played. 26 at bats (or 26 of anything) is a pathetic sample size in the statistics world.
Now, even with the bad start last year, David Ortiz finished the season with 28 HR, and 99 RBI. I would like to think that given whatever mini-slump he is in now, he will break out of and do about the same this year. Then the question is as follows. Do you resign David Ortiz for 2011?
Regardless of what I think the answer should be, I will tell you what the answer will be. No, this is David Ortiz’s last season in a Red Sox uniform. Again, I cannot emphasize enough that my opinion on this is not due to his failure to hit well in the first 8 games of the year. There are 4 main reasons that I believe Ortiz will be departing at the end of the season.
- Jeremy Hermida and Mike Lowell. In 2009, the Sox could wait out the Ortiz slump, as their options for replacement were very limited. Our bench players were Nick Green, Jed Lowrie, Rocco Baldelli, Chris Carter, Jon Van Every, and Mark Kotsay. These were not exactly potent offensive forces, with several of them on the DL or in AAA to start the year. Ortiz had no practical replacement options, so they left him there. Jeremy Hermida could not be off to a better start; taking advantage of seemingly every plate appearance he has been given. If this keeps up, I see Hermida being a cornerstone of the team in years to come. I believe Hermida is on a 1-year deal, and I’m not sure the status of the contract rights, but I’m sure if he performs that there will be an effort to keep the 25-year old. Mike Lowell is Mike Lowell. We all know the situation he is in. Terry Francona will be giving both of these guys’ at bats, and he will likely have to use the DH slot to do that. If they are hitting and Ortiz is not, eventually he will lose playing time. Ortiz has two be looking at these two in his rear view mirror and can’t be thrilled about it.
- Contract. Ortiz’s contract is up at the end of the year. The Red Sox hold a $12.5 Million option for the 2011 season, and there is no buyout clause. Boston could let him walk without paying him a dime. With concerns surrounding the slump(s), and age, $12.5M is probably not going to happen. The Sox will pass on the option, and this would leave both sides in a position where they would have to negotiate a new deal. I see Theo Epstein aiming in the 1-year, $5 million range, if offering anything at all.
- The Slump(s). I said the slump(s) don’t matter right now, and they don’t. Ortiz could break out tomorrow and have a great season. The problem is the perception, and the talk, is there. If Ortiz hits .280/32/110 this year, a stint of 4 for 26 at the start of the season will be inconsequential; however the perception of bad starts has been cemented in everyone’s mind. There is no way around it. On opening day 2011, wherever he is, David Ortiz will be asked if he is slumping if he goes 0-4. He will likely have to face these questions in spring training as well. This puts extra pressure on him to hit home runs every game. This has the potential of upsetting the big teddy bear, and can put him in a mindset of struggling, which will actually lead to him struggling.
- The direction of the team, pitching and defense. Youth, speed, and some of the more “natural” talents are what are being valued more these days. I realize that Ortiz is a DH, and he has no impact on the pitching or defense, but the fact remains that this team has a different feel to it than it did from 2000-2008. I don’t want to blame it on the steroid era, but I think that is part of it. The whole game is changing, and the big boppers have less of a place if they don’t meet the other aspects of the game.
Any of these reasons on their own may not be enough to get him out, but the union of all of them presents an interesting argument for letting him walk. Given all this, if Ortiz does turn it around in the next week or so, and winds up with that .280 Avg/32 HR/110 RBI line, I would be for signing him to a 1-year deal, but probably not at his contract option price.