David Ortiz Accepts Arbitration

Ever since he’s joined the Red Sox, David Ortiz has been an elite designated hitter. Even in the bad years. It might seem like a slight to the slugger that he has reportedly decided to accept arbitration with the Red Sox, but it’s just the result of market realities. Arbitration might actually fit both sides.

Given the following two graphs, it may seem like a stretch to label Ortiz elite throughout his time in Boston. After all, he hit .264/.369/.507 with 23 home runs in 491 plate appearances in 2008, and followed that with a .238/.332/.462 and 28 season. Those seasons paled in comparison to his .287/.413/.636 peak in 2006. You can see that his value, as measured by wOBA, has risen and fallen with his power, as measured by ISO:


If your worst year includes a .224 ISO and a 11.8% walk rate, you’re doing something right. Still squarely in the “Good” every year. He’s helped the Red Sox DH ‘position’ to a 139 wRC+ since 2003, tops in the league and well beyond second place and the Yankees at 120. In fact, the DH position has played to a .263/.345/.451 average (A.L. only) since Papi first slapped his hands together as a Red Sock.

Well, there was Ortiz’ 2008 season where he had a .340 wOBA and the league averaged a .342. So he hasn’t been elite every year. And the graph obviously shows some decline — he’s 36 now, and it’s understandable. The list of DHs that were good for multiple years after they turned 36 begins and ends with Edgar Martinez, who was a very different player. But there, on the list, are Jim Thome, Frank Thomas, Ellis Burks and even Chili Davis. The designated hitter has helped many bad-bodied sluggers extend their careers, why not Ortiz?

Why not. It’s not as if the Red Sox are letting Ortiz go. It’s just that the fact of his age, and his position, that has led the team to hesitate offering any more than the rumored two years and $18 million.

The dollar valuation on our site attempts to adjust for DHs by removing much of their replacement value in the positional adjustment. In other words, it’s not worth much to DH at a replacement level, since you aren’t adding any fielding value. Along with Ortiz’s poor base running, and age-related decline, he’s only been worth about nine wins in the last four years — worth an average of $9.7 million a year. Old DHs don’t usually get multi-year deals for a reason.

The last fact that made arbitration a palatable decision for Ortiz is that the process won’t take much of this into account. Fielding? Baserunning? Replacement level? Arbitration will focus, more likely, on his gaudy batting average, home runs and RBI totals. The average DH last year hit .270 with 21 home runs, Ortiz’s representation will point out, and my client hit .307 with 29 home runs. The expectation around the industry is that Ortiz is in line for a $14-15 million salary if the two sides indeed go to arbitration.

The threat of that number should put some giddyap in the Red Sox negotiations. There’s still time for the two sides to make a deal, and if the team can add a little to their current offer, they could get a second year for not much more than the one-year award might be. If they don’t make a deal, it will be because the Red Sox value their ability to avoid the risk of the second year more than they value the short-term money. Arbitration could still be a good fit for both parties.




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Graphs: Baseball, Roto, Beer, brats (OK, no graphs for that...yet), repeat. Follow him on Twitter @enosarris.


9 Responses to “David Ortiz Accepts Arbitration”

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  1. Yirmiyahu says:

    He could still sign a two year deal (even after tonight’s deadline for accepting arb). The Red Sox would be accepting more risk, but would be getting a lower AAV (which is the important thing, considering they pay more attention to the luxury tax than to real-life dollars).

    The difference between the two sides at the moment is $25M vs $18M. If they compromise at, say, $21M/2, that’s a savings of $3M or $4M against the luxury tax cap.

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  2. Brian says:

    I really don’t see Ortiz voluntarily cutting his 2012 pay down to <$10M instead of $14-$15M just because he's getting that $10M twice in a 2-yr contract (or accepting an uneven 2 year deal like $12M + $8M). I think the only thing that's going to temper Ortiz' contract demands is an open market without the option of arbitration (aka reality).

    Was surprised Boston offered arb. Not surprised Ortiz is taking it.

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  3. cliff lee's changeup says:

    I think the arb offer was smart, they don’t want to lose ortiz, and since he’s gonna cost a draft pick and is old, other teams weren’t about to outbid the red sox for his services.

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  4. adohaj says:

    WAR and The DH don’t mix well in my opinion. Take Paul Molitor for example

    http://www.fangraphs.com/statss.aspx?playerid=1009040&position=3B/DH

    Compare 1982 with any of 1991-1993 He has about the same PA with HIGHER wRC+ yet his WAR is about 1 less in each of the seasons. In 1982 Molitor played -3 in the field. So playing at replacement level at third base is worth roughly 1 win ABOVE replacement? Am I missing something here?

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    • Dash says:

      Positional scarcity/difficulty. It is harder to find someone who plays average defense at 3B than it is to find someone whose defense doesn’t matter at all.

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      • John DiFool says:

        Of course, it’s also hard to find someone who can play DH full time and not see their performance suffer (see Frank Thomas and Reggie Jackson for starters).

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  5. TK says:

    Ortiz will not take 2/20 if he’s in line for 1/15. Even if he tanks in ’12, a team like the Orioles would give him 5 mil in 2013. Also, it would be a pay cut and the pride thing is real. I think Ortiz gets 2/24 at least or goes to arbitration.

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  6. Alan says:

    This is the biggest bargain of the off-season. In a year where Pujols and Fielder will be getting $200M deals, Ortiz gets ~$14M despite being about as good of a hitter.

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    • vivalajeter says:

      From the article: “Along with Ortiz’s poor base running, and age-related decline, he’s only been worth about nine wins in the last four years — worth an average of $9.7 million a year.”

      Also from the article: “The expectation around the industry is that Ortiz is in line for a $14-15 million salary”

      Yeah Alan, bargain of the off-season!

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