David Ortiz: 'I'm still hungry'
SARASOTA, Fla. -- The topic was first broached, Boston Red Sox general manager Ben Cherington said, after the World Series. Then there was a meeting with Cherington and Larry Lucchino before Christmas, the negotiating began in spring training, and the news conference came Monday.
In sum, David Ortiz and the team took a pretty direct route to the contract extension that was formally announced in an interview room outside the Baltimore Orioles' clubhouse here, an agreement that is designed to keep Ortiz in a Sox uniform for the rest of his career.
That was the goal all along, Cherington said Monday, a goal that the Sox have had a hit-and-miss record with other iconic players in the past: Adios, Dewey Evans, Pedro Martinez and Johnny Damon; thanks for the memories, Tim Wakefield and Jason Varitek.
"We just felt like if we were going to talk about this now, let's see if we can find a way to craft something fair to David and virtually guarantees he finishes his career here," said Cherington, who cited Ortiz as a "cornerstone player" and invoked his value to the franchise beyond the playing field. "That was the goal. That's what we set out to do, and I'm glad we were able to accomplish that."
Money was never a stumbling block. Ortiz publicly had expressed a desire, early on in the process, for the Sox to tack on another year for dollars similar to those he's being paid this season: $15 million. The Red Sox gave him a $1 million raise, to $16 million in 2015.
The new deal also created a structure designed to keep Ortiz in a Sox uniform for an additional two years, through the 2017 season. The deal calls for a club option for a $10 million base in 2016 that has escalating clauses that will automatically vest if Ortiz reaches a certain number of plate appearances.
In 2016, he will be paid:
• $11 million if he has 425 plate appearances
• $12 million for 475 plate appearances
• $13 million 525 plate appearances
• $14 million for 550 plate appearances
• $15 million for 575 plate appearances
• $16 million for 600 plate appearances
The contract option is structured slightly different in 2017. It is strictly a club option, unlike in 2016, when his performance would dictate whether he returns. The 2017 option has the same $10 million base, and the same escalating clauses, the difference being that the club would decide whether it wanted Ortiz back at those pay thresholds.
Ortiz has made 600 plate appearances or more in eight of his 11 seasons with the Red Sox. The only exceptions were in 2003, when he was still a part-time player sharing time with Jeremy Giambi and Shea Hillenbrand; in 2008, when he sustained a partially torn tendon sheath in his left wrist, limiting him to 491 plate appearances; and in 2012, when Ortiz strained his right Achilles tendon and had just 383 appearances.
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Ortiz is 38 years old; the extension takes him to just short of his 42nd birthday. How did the Sox assess the risk of making such a significant financial commitment to an aging player?
"In a lot of different ways, David is an outlier, an exception to the rule," Cherington said. "There are just not many guys at his level at this point in his career. You can't look at it [as] normal. Even in contract discussions, you have to look at it differently.
"What we do know, what we go off is, what we've seen most recently, and what we've seen most recently is a guy who in 2013 -- even putting the playoffs aside -- was one of the best hitters in the league."
Ortiz last season hit 30 home runs and posted a slash line of .309/.395/.564/.959. The number of other players last season who hit .300 or better, with 30 or more home runs, an on-base average higher than .390 and a slugging percentage better than .550? Two, AL MVP Miguel Cabrera and Arizona first baseman Paul Goldschmidt. Cabrera was 30, Goldschmidt 25.
"We don't have any reason to believe that's not going to continue for some period of time," Cherington said. "David takes terrific care of himself, he cares, he's got team goals, he's got personal goals -- there are a lot of reasons for him to continue playing, and we know when he's playing he wants to be good. There's a lot of pride.
"So there's really no comparison to make, but if you go off what we see, and most recently that's a very good hitter, one we believe will continue to be a very good hitter for some period of time ... David's a smart guy. He knows that eventually Father Time wins. He's going to push that back as far as he can. He's got a lot of reasons to try and push that back."
Manager John Farrell reiterated that Ortiz is an even better hitter now than he was during Farrell's first go-round with the team (2007-10) as a pitching coach, especially in terms of his success against left-handed hitters. When Farrell was here as pitching coach, Ortiz batted .197 (125-for-636) with 18 home runs against lefties; in the past three seasons, Ortiz is batting .300 (148-for-494) with 24 home runs.
"When Adrian Gonzalez was here I know there was a lot of conversation that went on between the two," Farrell said. "[Ortiz] watched his work and his BP routine. It's not a mistake that he hits a ball the opposite way against left-handers. It's because of the way he goes about his daily work routine.
"He's very consistent and I think he's got an understanding of what opposing lefties are attempting to do to him. But if you look back at his 2009 and '10 performance against lefties, it's nowhere near what it has grown to in '11 or '12. It seems like there was a lot of back and forth between him and Adrian."
It may be a byproduct of left-handed pitchers making adjustments in how they pitch to Ortiz, but after he batted .350 against lefties in 2011, Gonzalez's first year with the Sox, and .320 in 2012, Gonzalez's second season here, Ortiz slipped to .260 in 2013.
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"He still amazes me personally, to perform at the level he does, and he's so critical to our offense nightly," Farrell said.
"There are not many David Ortizes. What we're fortunate enough to see is the work that he puts in. It's not just the offseason and spring training, but that continues on in the hours of the day that people don't see him.
"Is he defying time? Yeah, I guess to a certain extent, but it's also all the work he puts in. He keeps himself in great shape and continues to learn as a hitter. These are things that have allowed to keep him productive."
Farrell also took note of Ortiz's irreplaceable presence in the Sox clubhouse.
"Walk by, he's got a group around him all the time," Farrell said. "Today is no different than what you see in the season. When he speaks, guys are going to listen. He has such a history of success and different sets of experiences. New players come in, and they look to him for that sounding board, that comfort zone, and certainly a lot of confidence when he's around. He walks in a room, all eyes go to him."
Ortiz joked that reporters had probably wearied of him talking about his contract; he has railed against "haters" who have criticized him for doing so in the past.
The day will come, he said, when he will accept the end has come.
"There's going to be a day when I'm not going to feel like doing what I normally do," he said. "When that happens, everybody's going to know it."
That day is not yet near, he said. Ortiz has 431 career home runs, 69 short of 500, a benchmark number for sluggers. There are 25 players with 500 or more home runs. Albert Pujols is within eight of joining that group; Adam Dunn is 60 shy. Only two Dominican-born players have 500 or more home runs: Sammy Sosa (609) and Manny Ramirez (555).
"I'm still hungry," Ortiz said. "I want to keep on winning. Winning is good. You feel great when you go out there and kick some ass."
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