David Ortiz: Proud to be on Red Sox
BOSTON -- Not only does Boston Red Sox general manager Ben Cherington need to find and hire the next manager for the club, he also has some big free agency issues he'll need to deal with shortly after the World Series between the Texas Rangers and St. Louis Cardinals is decided.
Both designated hitter David Ortiz and closer Jonathan Papelbon are free agents, although the Red Sox hold exclusive negotiating rights until five days after the Series ends. Assuming both hit the open market, they figure to draw attention from other clubs, and Cherington knows there will be challenges moving forward in negotiations.
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"One of the advantages of free agents who are coming from your clubhouse is that you know them really, really well," Cherington said. "We know David and Pap really well, they've been huge parts of the team and we would like to have both of them back. We're going to have to see if there's a contract that makes sense for them and for us, but we would be a really good team if we had both of them back."
It's no secret that Ortiz, 35, wants to remain in Boston for the remainder of his career and would like a multiyear deal. He made $12.5 million this past season, finishing with a .309 average with 29 homers and 96 RBIs.
Papelbon, who has gone year-to-year on contracts throughout his career, reaches free agency for the first time. He'll likely have some suitors, but he also has said he wants to stay in Boston. He's avoided arbitration the last three seasons and earned $12 million in 2011. He finished the season with 31 saves and a 2.94 ERA.
"They've been huge parts of the team over several seasons and very consistent performers. In a vacuum we'd love to have both on the team again," Cherington said.
Cherington admitted during his introductory press conference on Tuesday at Fenway Park that he would like to see Ortiz finish his career in Boston that he has had initial dialogue with Ortiz's agent.
Ortiz, who did not participate in the initial talks, said he's wishes Cherington well in his new position and hopes to get an extension settled sooner rather than later.
"Great," Ortiz said when told of Cherington's comments. "I would never try to do anything to hurt the organization. This organization, I hope I don't have to go anywhere else. Playing for the Red Sox you have to be proud of it and I'm proud to play for the Red Sox. My agent was there and he let them know how I feel. We'll see."
"If the Red Sox sign me right now they won't regret (it)," Ortiz added. "I've got so many ways to keep doing what I've been doing around here. I bring so much to this organization, I bring so much to the table here because I care so much about this organization."
The image of the Red Sox has taken a hit lately as the team suffered through a 7-20 September collapse that kept them out of the playoffs, saw manager Terry Francona and general manager Theo Epstein leave, and been engulfed in stories of clubhouse disorder.
Cherington said that negotiations during the five-day window of exclusivity are tough to handicap.
"My impression is Pap will probably get into free agency. I'm not ruling anything out but that's my impression," Cherington said. "With David, he may also but we're going to talk to him again before that happens. I think there's a desire for David to end his career with the Red Sox, but there needs to be a deal that makes sense to him and to us."
Cherington acknowledged that both players have earned the right to test the market.
"When players get to this point, they've earned the right to test free agency if they choose to," Cherington said. "There is risk associated on both sides. There's certainly a risk that players get into free agency and they get something that's too good to pass up and they go to another team. There's also a risk for them that they get into free agency and that means we have to look at other options."
While Papelbon usually goes into hibernation during the offseason, Ortiz said he began his offseason workout routine two weeks ago.
"I'm a professional guy and I like competition," he said. "I like to be good at what I do. I'm telling you right now, I've got a lot of baseball left. I don't have to be working out right now, but I like to compete. I like to do good. I want to walk into training camp looking good, feeling good and ready to go. With my job I want to get better every day."
Ortiz was recently honored with the Roberto Clemente Award, which recognizes the player who best represents the game of baseball both on and off the field. Ortiz received the award prior to Game 2 of the World Series and compared the honor to winning the MVP.
Many times during last season Ortiz made his desire to remain in Boston clear. Epstein and Cherington have admitted Ortiz is the face of the franchise, something the DH takes very seriously.
"My priority is to make the Red Sox win," Ortiz said. "I care about winning and the Red Sox are a great organization. I want to win another championship."
Ortiz said the Red Sox should quickly sign Papelbon too.
"I think they should sign Papelbon to a four-year deal," Ortiz said. "This guy has no fear. There are closers who come into some situations against some teams and they want no part of it. Papelbon, you will never see fear in this guy's face. This guy is legit, dude."
Prior to the 2011 season, Ortiz and Papelbon made a friendly bet based on each other's personal goals. Ortiz said he would reach 30 homers and 100 RBIs, while Papelbon had to reach 35 saves and have an ERA under 2.50.
"He accepted my challenge," Ortiz said. "This guy is a trooper, man. This guy is a gamer. You have to see how pumped this guy gets when he comes into a tough situation. That's what you need to get from your players. This guy is in his prime. He's special and if they don't sign him they are going to make a big mistake."
As much as finding a new manager is atop Cherington's to-do list, the GM also needs to figure out if he can find a way to sign both Ortiz and Papelbon.
"Everything I do I want to be the best of the best," Ortiz said.
Joe McDonald covers the Red Sox for ESPNBoston.com.
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