More Than Just A Baseball Deal

The Red Sox are paying David Ortiz for everything he's meant to Boston. (Getty Images)

The Red Sox are paying David Ortiz for everything he's meant to Boston. (Getty Images)

There really isn’t another way to see David Ortiz’s one-year, $16 million contract extension other than as a reward for past performance. That makes it odd, as teams generally work to avoid paying for past performance when signing players to new contracts. Pay a two-win player for the five wins he posted last year, and pretty quickly you’re spending lots of money for a team that isn’t very good. What’s more, Ortiz will be 38 years old this season. Teams don’t typically give large average annual value contract extensions to players approaching 40, and yet, that’s exactly what the Red Sox have done here. Coming from one of the smarter organizations in baseball, this seems like a curious deal, and in pure baseball terms it is. But this deal can’t be measured in pure baseball terms.

There is a baseball aspect to it, of course. Ortiz is 38, but it can be reasonably argued he’s coming off his second best season in the majors, and whether or not it was his second best of fifth best, it can’t be argued that it wasn’t darn good. His projections are impressive for a player of his age and position. FanGraphs Steamer projects an OPS just below .900 while Baseball Prospectus offers a more conservative .840. Given that DHs last season had a .765 OPS (a figure which includes Ortiz’s .959), the Red Sox would probably take either outcome.

Of course, David Ortiz was already signed for the 2014 season. The extension covers the 2015 season, his age-39 season, and that’s where things get iffy on the performance side. There’s a good chance that Ortiz won’t be worth the three-plus wins he’ll be paid for next season. That’s all right though, because as I said earlier, this deal really isn’t about performance. It’s about the fact that during his time in Boston, Ortiz has become the face of the franchise. It’s about the fact that, over his career, Ortiz has been underpaid for his performance. It’s about the fact that, after the Boston Marathon bombings, the city turned to the Red Sox to help heal, and nobody said or did more to make that happen than David Ortiz. When he said, “This is our f—ing city,” he was including himself. Boston is his home, he’s embraced it, and the people of Boston have embraced him.

In a previous draft of this piece, I wrote that this signing is a win-now deal, and in a baseball sense that is correct. Giving Ortiz the extra year he wanted is about making him happy and productive this season as much as it is about signing him for next season. Red Sox GM Ben Cherington even spoke to that when announcing the deal, when he said, “Right now it’s very clear that our best chance to win is with David Ortiz in the middle of our lineup.” That is true. But this deal is about much more than winning baseball games in 2014. This contract extension is the Red Sox formally saying Ortiz will be a Red Sox for the rest of his career, money be damned. It says he’ll be an ambassador to the organization when his playing career is done. It says nobody has done more to turn the Red Sox from a perennial second place team into perhaps the preeminent franchise in baseball over the last decade. That may or may not show up in his stats, but it undoubtedly has value. On Monday, the Red Sox formally recognized it.

10 thoughts on “More Than Just A Baseball Deal

  1. Yeah, and its also about rewarding a guy the Red Sox jerked around. I believe this is either his sixth or seventh contract in 12 years because the Sox keep giving him 1 to 2 year deals all the time. I get that he is “only” a DH, but he is still the BEST at that “position.”

    • The Red Sox were wise to be cautious with an aging post-steroid player with that body type. But if they had given him a long term deal back in the day there is no question that Ortiz would have been complaining long before it expired. As his buddy Ramirez displayed time and again, the mix of stupid, talent, and money is a volatile one.

      • There is the organizational perspective and the player perspective. As a player, how would you like playing on one year contracts every year? The only reason why Ortiz “complains about his contract every year” is because the Red Sox keep giving him one and two year deals, so it expires almost every year. No other player, given this level of production, has ever been treated this way. They all get longer term deals, 4-7 years when you produce like he did back when 27-29 years old.

        As for steroids, http://deadspin.com/david-ortiz-still-doesnt-know-how-he-failed-that-drug-1053045617
        Accusing someone in the court of public opinion, without being able to back it up with concrete facts, well I want some answers to the same questions Ortiz posed in this article before I make my end all be all judgment. The simple truth is, you can tarnish someone’s image or rep for a decade with no forthcoming evidence. I’ll make my determination when Ortiz gets the honest answers to his questions. Ortiz is also the one who said “if you are caught doing steroids you should be banished from the game for a year and that was 5 months prior to the test results coming out. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/David_Ortiz

        Other than that, Ortiz has had a legitimate peak to his (ages 27-33), career and he has had a significant decline in production since that peak, post age 33. Unlike Barry Bonds, whose 2nd peak, 35-39 ages, was better than his first, 27-32, or A Roid who has been caught multiple times and lied multiple times. Let’s also face the fact that Ortiz has NEVER looked close to svelte his entire career, never looked like Mark McGwire or Jose Canseco. His physique is not one of PEDs.

        I get the Red Sox know Ortiz is “only a DH” but he has been the most productive one ever. He is also the only player with all 3 World Series rings from the last decade playoff run and thus the ONLY player the Red Sox kept during the full period, while they were swapping out parts, Schilling, Manny, Ellsbury, Papelbon, Adrian Gonzalez, Carl Crawford, etc. He deserves the contract.

    • He wasn’t jerked around. He signed a 5 year deal, which the Red Sox extended in 2007, upping his annual salary to 13 million.

  2. Being a Yankee fan but more importantly a baseball fan its nice to see some loyalty form an organization. I belive it would make it a better game if there was more of this and not just all about the $$$$$$$$$ form both teams and players!!!!!

  3. Thanks both to the author of this article, and the commenters, for the explanation of why Ortiz got this contract now. It was a bit puzzling why he kept pushing for it now, while the Red Sox wanted to wait Post 2014 Season. I wondered if at 38, he knew/knows something. He did say, according to Sportsnet, that he loves winning and he’s hungry for more. Obviously, the both parties were able to agree, especially with Ortiz accepting $16 million vs the $20 million he wanted. He truly, then, loves the game, his team, and his hometown of Boston.

  4. Well for once I agree with a Yankee fan! Baseball would be better served if there were more loyalty all the way around! Nice that management recognized big Papi’s worth..on and off the field. Much deserved! GO SOX!!

  5. Great signing by the Red Sox, David Ortiz deserves every penny. He has been the best DH in baseball since he broke out with the Sox. And even if he gets injured and barely plays or he is terrible the Red Sox can decline his option for the 2016 season, but that probably won’t happen.