Commentary

The case for extending David Ortiz

Updated: February 19, 2014, 9:07 PM ET
By Gordon Edes | ESPNBoston.com

FORT MYERS, Fla. -- Here's why the Boston Red Sox should give David Ortiz a contract extension: It makes good business sense to do so.

Now that's counterintuitive to how the argument is usually framed: Ortiz is 38, the Sox already have him under contract for 2014, no need to do anything now, no one else is going to pay him what the Sox are paying him, he's just bluffing when he talks about leaving if he isn't paid his due.

But the Red Sox should extend him because they've never been in a better financial position to do so: The industry is flush with cash, national TV revenues have taken a big spike, and there's no quantifiable way (at least to these untrained eyes) to measure how Ortiz's contributions have increased the value of the franchise located at 4 Yawkey Way. We have metrics like WAR that can help gauge the dollar value of wins and losses, but that only begins to tell the story of Ortiz's impact on John W. Henry's business venture. We just know it's huge.

[+] EnlargeDavid Ortiz
Michael Ivins/Boston Red Sox/Getty ImagesIt's difficult to quantify David Ortiz's economic impact on the Red Sox franchise, but there's no question it's huge.

The Red Sox have $62.6 million in contract obligations in 2015, a number that drops all the way to $13.3 million in 2016. John Lackey's AAV of $16.5 million comes off the books, as his salary drops to the major league minimum as the result of a clause that protected the Sox when Lackey lost a year after Tommy John surgery. Another $23 million will be shaved off the payroll when the contracts of Jake Peavy and A.J. Pierzynski expire. OK, so some of that money will go toward a contract extension for Jon Lester that will place him in the $20 million AAV club.

But the Sox also will have a number of low-paid players in key positions who won't even be eligible for salary arbitration in 2015: three positional starters in Xander Bogaerts, Jackie Bradley Jr. and Will Middlebrooks, possibly a rookie catcher (Blake Swihart or Christian Vazquez), and whichever young pitchers make the jump to the big leagues.

It's to the team's credit that the Red Sox put themselves in that position (much of that credit, by the way, goes to Theo Epstein, who drafted most of this young talent). But it also speaks to why the Red Sox should extend Ortiz as quickly as possible, and tack on a club option year so this doesn't have to play out every winter. Maybe even keep those club options going into perpetuity, like they once did with Tim Wakefield.

Would another team pay an approaching-40 designated hitter more than the Red Sox are paying Ortiz? The answer until recently would have been an emphatic no, until you look at the kind of money that was spent on the open market this winter: As of the end of January, teams spent more than $2 billion on 105 free agents. Are you dead certain that if Ortiz has the kind of season in 2014 that he did last year, there might not be a team one big bat away from winning that wouldn't overpay him on a short-term deal?

What is the risk to the Red Sox if Ortiz's performance goes into dramatic decline? Those kinds of predictions have been dogging Ortiz for years, and he just keeps putting up numbers. Is the risk really any greater than it would be for Mike Napoli or Shane Victorino?

And when that decline comes -- which one day it will -- you write it off as the price of doing business. And you do it grateful that for more than a decade you had, as Ortiz noted Wednesday, "one of the greatest players ever to wear this uniform." It's curious, isn't it, that people can work up far more outrage for a baseball player who might wind up being paid one year too many than for a corporate executive who awards himself tens of millions in executive bonuses, even if his company is underperforming. In baseball, there are countless examples of players drawing big salaries when their performances no longer justify it.

No one can say that Ortiz has underperformed. Yet when Ortiz says, after a season-saving grand slam in the American League Championship Series and an epic World Series performance, that maybe he deserves some added benefit, some folks decide he is the poster boy for greed and gall. True, he could have articulated those desires with greater finesse -- he would have saved himself some grief right from the get-go had he told WBZ's Steve Burton he was seeking just a one-year extension, not a "long-term deal" -- but the backlash was out of proportion to what he really was saying.

[+] EnlargeJohn W. Henry
Michael Ivins/Boston Red Sox/Getty ImagesJohn Henry says he wants to settle David Ortiz's contract status sooner rather than later.

And it is true, as he said, that when things are going good, that's when you see what you can get. The Sox took a much greater risk last winter, when Ortiz was coming off an Achilles strain, in giving him a two-year deal than they would in extending him now.

For those weary of the contract talk, it is likely headed for a resolution. Ortiz said he thought he hoped a deal could be struck "pretty soon." Owner John W. Henry, noting that all key parties to the discussion will be in town by Thursday, said he would be looking to settle this soon, one way or the other.

It's pretty clear where this is all heading. Sometime right after Opening Day, so that it doesn't impact this year's luxury-tax threshold, Ortiz and the Sox will announce they've agreed on an extension. As they should.

Wednesday morning, just before Ortiz's session with the media, Yankees captain Derek Jeter was discussing his plans to retire after the season.

Ortiz, meanwhile, was asked how long he intended to play.

"I hear that question asked all the time," he said. "I have a question for everyone: What am I doing so bad that people want me to retire? Can anyone give me an answer to that?"

Pay the man, Gladys. And play on, David.

Gordon Edes

Red Sox reporter, ESPNBoston.com

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