David Ortiz’s Contract Complaints

I came across this blurb a couple days ago over at HardBall Talk (originally from ESPN Boston):

“David [Ortiz] is (too) proud and respectful to say how he feels in public, but the guy feels hurt, upset by the way that he is being ignored by the Red Sox,” said the unnamed source. “After all he’s done here and having a good season, he was at least hoping to be approached by the team to talk about his future.”

On one hand, David Ortiz has a point. He’s in the midst of his best season since 2007 — his .390 wOBA is impressive — and as one of the most-loved players on the Red Sox, it would seem like a common courtesy that the team would reach out to him about a new contract. If you can help it, you certainly don’t want to annoy one of your star players during the stretch run.

But as weird as it may sound, I think the Red Sox are actually doing Ortiz a favor. He might not realize it now, but if the Sox had reached out to him, he might not have liked what he heard. I’m certain Ortiz will end up back in Boston, but much like Jeter’s situation this past offseason, things could get messy before the end.

First, the facts: Ortiz is having his best season in four years. While he had a great 2010 — posting a .380 wOBA in over 600 plate appearances — Ortiz has gone one step further this season. He’s hitting .288/.377/.534 — good for a .390 wOBA; he has dropped his strikeout rate the lowest of his career (13%); and he’s still among the most powerful hitters in the majors (.246 ISO, seventh in the American League). He’s 35-years-old, and though he’s not as powerful as he once was during his peak, reports of his demise have been largely exaggerated, not to mention premature. Simply put, Ortiz can still rake.

Because he’s having such a great season, Ortiz is going to want to get paid. Assuming he doesn’t slump, this will be the second consecutive season he’s finished with around 30 home runs and .380+ wOBA. Due to his age, this should be his last chance to make a massive salary through baseball, so it’s in his best interest to negotiate for the best deal.

But will he get a big deal? Probably not. When Ortiz negotiated his current deal with the Red Sox, he was coming off an insane stretch in which he’d posted a .400+ wOBA  four seasons in row. He’d just hit 54 home runs in one year, and he was obviously one of the best home run hitters in the majors. And yet, the Red Sox only guaranteed to pay him $12.5 million per season for the next four years (there was an option for 2011). As a designated hitter on the far side of 30, Ortiz had much less value than his home run numbers suggested.

Ortiz has arguably been worth his contract, contributing $57 million of production while being paid $64 million. But most of that production came during the first year of his contract (6.7 WAR in 2007). Even if you give him a boost for being the “face of the franchise,” it’s still difficult to imagine a scenario where the Red Sox would be willing to pay Ortiz as much as he’s making right now.

Just look at this offseason’s class of free agents. If you’re a team looking for an aging slugger to provide you some power at DH, you have a list of options. Along with Ortiz, there’s Jim Thome, Hideki Matsui, Lance Berkman, Vladimir Guerrero, Bobby Abreu, Magglio Ordonez, Carlos Beltran, Carlos Pena — the list goes on and on. While Ortiz in undeniably the best hitter of the lot, the point is that the Red Sox have leverage. The team doesn’t need to bring Ortiz back, and there are many other DH options available.

So what would a new contract for David Ortiz look like? It depends how you project him going forward. Over the past four seasons, Ortiz has averaged just over 2.0 WAR per year (assuming he finished 2011 with around 3.5 WAR). Even if you are bullish on him and think he can average 2.0 WAR per year going forward, Ortiz would be worth at max $10 million per year. And if I’m the Red Sox, I wouldn’t want to commit to a contract any longer than three years.

More than likely, Ortiz isn’t going to be happy to hear this sort of offer, which is why I think the Red Sox have the right idea in remaining silent during the season about contract discussions. Which would you prefer: a star player that’s mildly hurt you won’t talk about a new contract with him, or one that feels unappreciated and lowballed? It’s lose-lose either way, but the Red Sox are making a good call here.




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Steve is the editor-in-chief of DRaysBay and the keeper of the FanGraphs Library. You can follow him on Twitter at @steveslow.

46 Responses to “David Ortiz’s Contract Complaints”

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  1. Ryan says:

    3 and 30 should be what the Red Sox offer. If Ortiz falls off a cliff production in the 2nd or 3rd year, the Red Sox can live with it.

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  2. Rdagast says:

    Lavarnway!!!

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  3. Derek says:

    Sounds about right to me. I have been saying give him 2 years @ 10mil per or 3 years @ 8mil.

    Anymore and you are risking alot. As much as Red Sox fans love Papi, they love winning more, so I hope Papi doesn’t think that Theo will crack on the payment side. I would love to have Papi back though.

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  4. Daniel says:

    Minor quibble: unless the Angels got really lucky somehow and Abreu decided to burn his contract, his option for next year vested. He won’t be a free agent.

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  5. DSC says:

    A lot of guys fight to NOT be a DH, though a lot are lousy fielders but can hit well enough. So there are more options for the Sox than even those handful.

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  6. TheGrandslamwich says:

    Of the other available aging players the only one I would consider over Papi is Berkman, and I think I still prefer Ortiz. I think the Sox start negotiations at the 2 year 10mil or 3year 8mil that Derek mentioned above and then later in negotiations “settle” around the 3year 10mil mark.

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    • vivalajeter says:

      Personally, I’d probably take Beltran over Ortiz. He’s hit very well in a crappy ballpark this year, and he’s capable of playing a corner outfield position reasonably well.

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  7. dustygator says:

    Anyone else think the Yankees should at least try to sign him? Yes the entire Eastern seaboard might explode but it seems like a good fit. Yankees will need a DH with Posada pretty much done, they have the money and he fits the ballpark perfectly. It’s not going to happen (just like people saying Boston should have made an offer to Jeter) but it should.

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    • BK says:

      With a whole bunch of NYY that have long term deals for aging players (Arod, Jeter, Tex) they’re going to want to keep that position relatively open for “days off.” Not to mention who knows how Jesus Montero’s catching abilities will be by next season, therefore, he’ll be the de-facto DH.

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      • Steve says:

        Point taken, but I don’t see what Teixeira has to do with anything. Ortiz would get, at most, a 3 year deal. Teixeira will still be capable of playing 1B at the decrepit old age of 33…

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    • RC says:

      The yankees already have like 4 DHs signed long term, and another one in AAA.

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    • MikeD says:

      No. I don’t see the Yankees making Oritz a serious offer, beyond trying to drive up his price or perhaps messing a bit with the Red Sox.

      First, Ortiz’s numbers away from Fenway this year are not particuarly strong, the third time in the last four seasons his away numbers have been substandard. Second, with Posada gone, the last thing the Yankees want to do is slot another aging DH-only player into that role. Next, Ortiz is going to be 36, and history says players like Ortiz’s skill can fade quickly. If the Yankees are going to put a full-time bat at DH, they might as well look internally at Montero, who can also provide value as a back-up catcher and first baseman, freeing up enough time to rotate A-Rod and Jeter into the DH spot for ocassional rest. Ortiz just doesn’t fit the Yankees plan, and if they want to go outside the organization for a full-time bat, they might as well take a look at the much younger Prince Fielder.

      My guess is he returns to the Red Sox on a two-year deal. I doubt any other AL team will offer him three, and the Red Sox have the ability to pay him a bit more than the others.

      The question is should the Red Sox sign him? Maybe they should use this opportunity to part ways before Ortiz collapses and then starts whining when his playing time is cut.

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    • Bryz says:

      That would mean that this “This is SportsCenter” commercial will finally come true… http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Y0iR05lYy1g

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  8. Towney007 says:

    If it’s me, I give him a 2 year, $20 million deal then load it up with incentives to top off at $25/$30 million. That’s beyond fair for an aging DH. If he wants more than that, let him walk. Especially when Lavarnway is a guy who looks to be ready and/or starting up a rotation at DH involving Youkilis. IMO, the Red Sox have almost all of the leverage here.

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  9. Rauuuuuuuuuuuuuul Ibanez says:

    My name isn’t on this list?

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  10. Detroit Michael says:

    The Red Sox should focus on how to best spend their dollars to maximize their expected wins. Giving extra money due to past accomplishments for a star player will not please fans in the long run. Learn from the Yankees’ Jeter mistake.

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    • CircleChange11 says:

      Yeah, if I were Ortiz, I wouldn’t look around the roster and see where they could make up the 2 WAR he provides. Despite their awesomely awesomeness, the BoSox have areas where they could actually get better, and some of it can be provided by simple regression by some of their big guys not having normal seasons.

      That’s how good the Red Sox are … they could conceivably let Ortiz go … and be better next year.

      However, they could offer him a reasonable deal, and let him take it.

      The only mistake BOS can do is give him a deal that “makes him happy”. That’ll likely be a big overpay.

      Very few other places are going to give him the exposure he’s used to.

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  11. baty says:

    Youkilis could use a chance to get off the field… You’d have to perform a nice trick to find a 3rd baseman though.

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  12. Sultan of Schwwingg says:

    I think the question of what becomes of Ortiz in Boston depends on how the team resolves RF. With LHB AGon, Ellsbury, Crawford and Salty all having negative splits against LHP, if the team gives RF to Reddick (another LHB), Ortiz is gone, replaced by a RH bat. But if they acquire a RH bat like Beltran instead, he may stay.

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    • RC says:

      Red Sox OPS vs Lefties: .812
      Red Sox OPS vs Righties: .811

      The “Red Sox need a RH Batter” meme is overblown.

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      • Sultan of Schwwingg says:

        I wasn’t aware of that, but it doesn’t matter anyway because I don’t think it’s reliable going forward. Four of their LH starters hit LHP poorly, and the other, Ortiz himself, is having an odd statistical year of hitting LHP better than RHP – that shouldn’t continue. If he’s resigned and Reddick is in RF, the Red Sox would have to deal with 6/9 of their roster being LHB who don’t hit LHP particularly well, playing in a stadium that favors RH power bats.

        That just doesn’t seem like it’s going to fly. I stand by my original statement.

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  13. baty says:

    Could be, but I wouldn’t be that sold on Middlebrooks. He still has lots and lots of work to do offensively… I’d be more likely to package him somewhere else.

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  14. Matt says:

    There’s no way Ortiz is a better hitter than Berkman.

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  15. J Dub says:

    What did winning the series in ’04 do for the RedSox brand ?
    Papi means more in B Town than just performance stats.
    He is worth 2-3 years at moderate $$.

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  16. Hal Kitzmiller says:

    Hopefully Ortiz doesn’t read this article, if he does he’ll be upset in both ways.

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  17. Steve says:

    big bloat should be grateful he is still playing instead of banned for all the ped’s he has used. must have a newer version to continue cheating.
    and his chinstrap beard looks ridiculous.

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    • RDRoberts says:

      Steve, don’t be silly. His people are looking into the wrongful PED accusations and will get back to all of us once they have answers. I know it’s been a few years, but I expect any day to hear a conclusion. Apparently Ortiz hired the same people to look into the situation as Raphael Palmeiro.

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    • MC says:

      Steve you are right on the money. 2 and $20? If you mean 2 donuts and a $20 bill for bus fare out of Boston, yes that sounds pretty good and by the looks of him he would like the donuts.

      Seriously though the Sox have a ton of talent in the minors and Ortiz is just filler at this point. Give the kids a chance.

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  18. Notsellingjeans says:

    You heard it here first -there’s zero chance the red sox re-sign him.

    They will offer him arbitration – he’s a type a – And then they will let some other al contender sign him and collect the two high draft picks. Then they’ll sign another guy from the list you posted who doesn’t have compensation attached and provides more defensive versatility and similar production – berk or Beltran, if either is willing to go back to the al.

    If neither is interested, they could go much cheaper at the position and sign Matsui, who could still a passable left field in shallow Boston one a week or in nl parks in interleague play. And again, the primary motivation is getting the two picks and saving some money at the dh position to divert funds elsewhere and avoid the luxury tax.

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    • BX says:

      If his agent is smart, he advises Ortiz to accept arbitration.

      There are plenty of DHs and quite a few “probably should play in the AL” players. Even if he is the best DH on the market, the difference in marginal wins between him and someone like Matsui (assuming two of Berkman/Beltran/Pena stay in the NL or are signed to not DH) isn’t worth surrendering the pick. Ortiz’s value drops significantly if the pick cost is attached to it.

      The Red Sox can afford him accepting though, and it would probably be a best case scenario to go year to year with higher salaries with Papi.

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      • notsellingjeans says:

        totally agree. The agent should advise him to accept it. I wonder whether he would. In arby, he’d probably get a one year, $13-14M deal, which the Red Sox would be ok with him accepting.

        Since Ortiz is no doubt looking for his last big pay day, however, I’d be that he’d want to refuse that and go on the market looking for 3/30. In which case, the Red Sox could let him walk and sign Matsui for one year and half the AAV.

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  19. pft says:

    “When Ortiz negotiated his current deal with the Red Sox, he was coming off an insane stretch in which he’d posted a .400+ wOBA four seasons in row.”

    Ortiz was not a FA so this was still a below market rate deal.

    How many HR would Papi hit in Yankee stadium?. What team needs a DH more than any team and can affoird to pay double the market rate. Thats right.

    Papi would be well within his rights to grap the shuttle to NY if the Rede Sox do not want to pay Papi.

    And I am not buying the argument that the Yankees have to keep open DH for the 700 OPS Jeter, and A-Rod is a good 2-3 years away from needing to DH on a regular basis so the Yankees could easily afford a 2-3 year overpay for Papi.

    Looking at Papis career with the Red Sox I find he has generated 31.9 WAR and been paid only 82 million. In other words, he has been underpaid 46 million. Papi says it is time to pay up baby and balance things out a bit.

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    • Stanky Hanke says:

      Ah yes, if I’m not mistaken the right to grap shuttles is guaranteed by a little known clause in the 17th amendment.

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  20. JeffLac says:

    I think the deal that gets it done is:

    2 years / $20M total.

    3rd year: Player option (buyout) for $2M, mutual option for $10M.

    Player option goes up to $5M if he hits some milestones. 45 HR, 150 RBI, 240 Games, something like that.

    This way, you’re guaranteeing him $11M/year for 2 and giving him the ability to earn a bit more (and be the highest paid DH). The Sox retain flexibility if they want to go in a different direction in year 3.

    If you’re Ortiz, you probably accept that. I don’t rule out that Theo doesn’t see him putting up $22M of value in 2 years and decides to offer something like 1 for $13M (+team option), which he’ll walk away from (and get more guaranteed money elsewhere)

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    • Nick says:

      The only problem with those incentives is that they are illegal under the current CBA. If teams could include benchmarks like hitting for a certain avg (.300) or number of HRs or RBIs, you would see it quite often in player contracts. The only incentives in player contracts that can be used are things like reaching a certain amount of plate appearances or games played,etc.

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  21. Steve says:

    If the yankees signed Ortiz, it would be one of the funniest things in baseball history.

    ESPN would literally have no idea how to slant their coverage of him. How can the cuddliest, jolliest, million dollar smile turn into a greedy jerk overnight? I don’t know, but we’ll figure it out.

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