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Sunday, March 23, 2014
Red Sox extend David Ortiz

By Gordon Edes
ESPNBoston.com

FORT MYERS, Fla. -- The Boston Red Sox have reached an agreement with David Ortiz that all but assures the iconic slugger will finish his career in a Boston uniform, and eliminates what had become an annual rite of spring -- Ortiz looking to add more years to his contract.

According to multiple sources, Ortiz agreed to a $16 million extension for the 2015 season, a $1 million bump from the $15 million he will be paid in 2014. Also in place is a club/vesting option for the 2016 season that will automatically kick in if Ortiz achieves a certain number of plate appearances, and a club option for 2017. If the option years are fulfilled, Ortiz will remain under Red Sox control into his 40s -- he turns 42 on Nov. 18, 2017, the final year of the deal.

David Ortiz
The Red Sox agreed with David Ortiz on a one-year, $16 million contract extension, according to a league source.

The team announced the extension and option years Sunday night.

"With this agreement, we have near certainty that David Ortiz will finish his career in a Red Sox uniform, which is something we have all wanted and that we are all proud of," owner John Henry said in a statement. "It is difficult to describe David's contributions to our city both on the field and off the field, and we are so proud to have this ambassador of our game with us as he continues on this road to Cooperstown."

There has been little doubt throughout camp that the Red Sox would sign Ortiz to an extension, with both the player and club ownership expressing a desire to strike an agreement. Ortiz's agent, Fernando Cuza, came for face-to-face negotiations with general manager Ben Cherington and CEO Larry Lucchino on multiple occasions, including Sunday.

Lucchino, as recently as last Thursday, said the club had spent the previous few weeks attempting to close a deal, and when Ortiz went to meet with Cuza on Sunday, he said "hopefully" a deal had been reached.

"We want it to happen," Lucchino said at the outset of camp. "We want him to be a guy who essentially came in with us even though it was 2003, our second year, and stayed with us for the rest of his career. I think it's a great thing. I know it's a great thing for us. I think it's a great thing for David and it would be a great thing for baseball and Red Sox fans. He feels connected. He's committed. He's certainly one of the most important faces in baseball, as well as for the franchise, so we're eager to resolve something if it can be done."

Ortiz, who in his first media conference in Fort Myers described himself as "one of the greatest players ever to wear this uniform," has been optimistic from the time he arrived in mid-February that a deal would be struck.

Despite missing all of last spring while rehabbing from a strained Achilles tendon, the nine-time All-Star enjoyed another banner season in 2013, capped by a performance in the World Series (.688 average, two home runs) that led to his selection as Series MVP.

"Conversations are good," Ortiz said at the outset of camp. "My bosses are more than happy to talk about what we're talking about. I think they're trying to get this out of the way so it doesn't begin to be a distraction."

Ortiz signed a two-year extension for $26 million after the 2012 season, the value increasing to $30 million by virtue of him being on the disabled list for fewer than 20 days, kicking in an additional $4 million performance clause. The $15 million he is due to be paid this year ranks as the second-highest salary on the team behind Mike Napoli, who signed a two-year, $32 million deal as a free agent last December.

The Red Sox took a much greater risk with that contract, given the serious nature of Ortiz's injury, than they are now. The Red Sox are well-positioned financially to absorb Ortiz's extension. They have just $62.6 million in guaranteed contract obligations in 2015, a number that drops to $13.3 million in 2016.

The Red Sox also are expected to 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 any young pitchers that make the jump to the big leagues.

Overall, the industry is flush with cash, reflected by the fact that teams spent more than $2 billion on just over 100 free agents this winter. National television revenues have increased dramatically, and the Red Sox gave themselves financial flexibility when they shed the enormous multiyear commitments they had made to Carl Crawford, Adrian Gonzalez and Josh Beckett by trading them to the Los Angeles Dodgers.

The Red Sox also are negotiating with left-hander Jon Lester on a multiyear extension, with Lester expressing this weekend that he believes progress is being made.

Ortiz is a player whose contributions have had an untold impact on the value of the franchise, first and foremost as a player who has been part of all three of this century's World Series winners (2004, 2007 and 2013). His exalted place in the community was demonstrated most dramatically last April, in the team's first game after the Boston Marathon bombings, when he was designated as the player to address the crowd at Fenway Park and elicited a huge response with his defiant declaration that "This is our f----- city."

What is the likelihood that Ortiz will maintain a high level of performance through the 2017 season? There are 24 players who have hit 25 or more home runs in a season from age 38 on, according to baseball-reference.com. That number drops to 18 from the age of 39 on, and to seven from 40 on.

Only two Red Sox players have ever done so, and both are in the Hall of Fame. Ted Williams did it three times, hitting 38 home runs at age 38, 30 at age 39, and 29 at age 41. Tony Perez, who spent the majority of his career with the Cincinnati Reds, hit 25 at age 38 in 1980.

Ortiz has a lifetime OPS of .930. He exceeded that last season, when he posted a .959 OPS. There have been 17 players 38 years old or older who have had a .900 or better OPS in seasons in which they made at least 400 plate appearances. Seven of those players have played in the last 15 years -- Matt Stairs, Barry Bonds (three times), Frank Thomas, Moises Alou, Edgar Martinez and Harold Baines.

All except Bonds and Alou did so while serving primarily as designated hitters. Baines and Bonds are the only players to do so as 40-year-olds.

Ortiz has not hit at all this spring, with just two hits in 35 at-bats for a .057 average. He struck out in two of his three plate appearances Sunday.

"I never hit in spring training, ever," he said earlier this week.

But last year, after missing all of spring training and the first two weeks of the regular season, he began the season with a 15-game hitting streak, driving in 15 runs in his first nine games.

"Spring training doesn't mean [anything] to me," Ortiz said Sunday. "Just [the lack of] intensity, you know. Motivation. I don't know. I just go through spring training and whatever. I know what I need to do to be ready for the season. Spring training is nothing that worries me."

Manager John Farrell said he is similarly unconcerned.

"David's going to be fine," Farrell said Sunday. "When you watch the bat speed, seeing the ball come off the bat in BP. He's going to get more ABs [Monday], probably take the day off the next day and then after that we'll run it out through the end of camp. His timing is going to be fine."