Granting Big Papi His Wish

Last week, David Ortiz expressed his desire for a multi-year extension from the Red Sox. After a down season in 2009 and a dreadful start to 2010, Ortiz’s bat has come around, and he is currently hitting .256/.376/.538 (.384 wOBA) on the season. Ortiz says he doesn’t want to deal with the uncertainty of a one-year deal, a clear reference to his current situation, as the Red Sox hold a $12.5 million dollar club option for 2011 with no buyout. It might annoy some people for Ortiz to complain not-so-subtly about a contract to which he himself agreed, but that’s the nature of these things. To invoke the inevitable cliché: it’s a business.

Putting aside the notion of a multi-year deal, what about that club option? Let’s begin with one reminder: while Ortiz is in his mid-thirties and in 2009 (particularly the first half) performed abysmally, Marcel and the other projection system rightly see one year as a relatively limited sample. Prior to the start of 2010 only ZiPS saw Ortiz comeing close to his current production (projecting a .380 2010 wOBA), but neither Marcels nor CHONE saw Ortiz’s bat as dead, both projecting him for the mid-.360s — not his usual standard, but still useful even at DH. Where does Ortiz’s projected true talent stand now? ZiPS updated RoS projections see him as a .383 wOBA hitter, or about +25 runs over a full season. CHONE’s July 1 Update has him as a +23 hitter at the moment. once adjusting for position and replacement level, 2.5 WAR a season seems to be the appropriate estimate for his likely true talent — a very good hitter with no position; a bit above average as a player overall.

But what about 2011? Ortiz turns 35 in the off-season, and is carrying a piano on his back, as Bill James once wrote of Mo Vaughn. Nonetheless, let’s simply attribute to him the standard 0.5 win-a-season decline due to injury risk and skill attrition, making 2 WAR is a fair estimate of his projected 2011 value. If each marginal win is worth 4 million dollars on the open market this season, and we assume a 10% inflation, then he’s likely worth about nine million on the open market next season — more than three million dollars less than his club option. Even if one assumes that the cost of a marginal win will inflate by 25% next season (to five million dollars), he still would be overpaid. If one assumes the 25% inflation and no decline from the massive slugger in his mid-30s, $12.5 million would be a market-value deal, but that’s not the kind of thinking that made Boston’s front office one of the best in baseball.

Now, if Ortiz were to agree to a multi-year contract at a lower annual salary, that might work out for the Red Sox. That doesn’t seem like a likely scenario, however, given that players rarely go for pay cuts. Boston does have the second-largest payroll in baseball, but they they don’t usually fill it with excessive or sentimental contracts. They might want to pursue Prince Fielder in the off-season (assuming he’s available from the Brewers or whichever team he’s on at that point) or perhaps they can revisit their seemingly never-ending (and long-rumored) quest for Adrian Gonzalez. Whatever the case may be, in the wake of the glory he brought to the franchise through his Home Run Derby victory, the Red Sox should plan on honoring at least the first part of Big Papi’s wish during the coming off-season by freeing him from his 2011 club option.




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Matt Klaassen reads and writes obituaries in the Greater Toronto Area. If you can't get enough of him, follow him on Twitter.

21 Responses to “Granting Big Papi His Wish”

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  1. odbsol says:

    Home Derby champs are definitely worth the premium. Just ask Ryan Howard.

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  2. Fielder and Gonzalez will both cost a fortune in terms of money and players and neither will fill the role that Ortiz fills now.

    I don’t see why Ortiz wouldn’t rip up the option and sign a two year deal for $18M or something close to that. Oritz gets his two year deal, and the Sox get their man for less money.

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  3. Steve Phillips says:

    They should trade him for Strasburg. I’m one of those guys, I make that deal.

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  4. Steve says:

    Is there a buyout? If there is, for say, $1M, that makes the math a lot closer.

    I’d be surprised, barring a 2nd half collapse, if the Sox didn’t pick up his option.

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  5. another idea says:

    I’m not as familiar with the red sox as I am with my home team, but could they use the DH spot as a rotating position for their injury-prone players to occupy? Or, they could get somebody like Adam Dunn for the position assuming he gets rid of his no-DH personal preference.

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    • Rich says:

      There aren’t a whole lot of available position players who OPS .950+. Rotating a position player is kind of wasting the spot when you can fill it with an elite hitter.

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  6. Chris says:

    One problem with this math is identifying someone to take his place. Finding a replacement player that is worth 2 WAR and giving him a $8M contract may sound better than paying a 3 WAR player $15M, but it won’t necessarily make the team better. It’s not like the Red Sox are financially constrained.

    The problem that teams run into is not paying good players more than market value. The problem is when they pay bad players. For example, paying Ortiz $12.5M in 2011 may be more than he’s truly worth, but I can’t see it affecting else the Red Sox would do. In contrast, giving him 3-4 years where they’re paying him $5-7M at age 38 is much more likely to hurt the team.

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  7. bflaff says:

    Well, he’s fat, he hits home runs, and he plays first base, so we all know he’s going to stink any minute now. Sox should trade him while his value is still north of zero.

    /Poe’s Law

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  8. Jake R says:

    Ortiz currently has 1.8 WAR. Since ZiPS sees his production remaining almost identical through the remainder of the season, that extrapolates to 3.1 WAR if he records the number of plate appearances ZiPS projects for him for the remainder of the season.

    His RAR is somewhat higher than his batting runs based on positional and replacement level adjustments. I’m not sure what the root of that is, but if WAR is correct in doing so, while your projection of being worth +25 batting runs is correct, the WAR value of that production is going to be closer to 3 than 2.5.

    If we then drop that number to 2.5 WAR for next year, a $12.5 million option is just about right. If long term contracts are valuing production at $4 million/win, it is perfectly reasonable for a 1 year deal to do so at $5 million/win. The option, 2/18 or 3/24 are good estimates for talking about what Ortiz should expect from the Red Sox.

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  9. alskor says:

    I’d be very surprised if the Sox picked up his option. That said, I expect him back.

    This is a guy who has already left tens of millions on the table before, TWICE giving the Red Sox a hometown discount. Each time he could have really cashed in but didn’t even try. He’s already talked a good bit about how desperate he is to stay… they’ll figure out something decent in the middle that keeps him here and protects them without embarrassing him.

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  10. pft says:

    I would be cautious about offering any DH a long term deal when Bud Selig comes out and says he prefers the NL rules, but it is up to the AL owners to decide on the DH. No DH=reduced payrolls. This run prevention, year of the pitcher mantra may have an agenda. If you can get rid of a bunch of the older sluggers who make more than younger players, you improve the pitching and reduce payroll. Just have to convince the fans to love low scoring games.

    The risk in signing any player in a contract year is was the performance enhanced. Given the designer drugs that someone making 12.5 million can afford, who knows if they were using (tests would not pick it up). Once a player gets a long term contract he may decide to give up the enhancement due to health concerns.

    Also, in 2006 Papi signed his extension. This is a year he hit 54 HR. In August he ended up in the hospital with palpitations (a symptom of anabolic steroids that could also be due to stress or caffeine), that scared him enough to say he needed to drop weight. His power numbers coincidentally fell in 2007-2009 (in 2008 he had a torn or split tendon sheath). Add it up and you wonder.

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  11. Nikolai Volkoff says:

    ortiz is a bloat who argues every called third strike on him, he is full of himself and that stupid chin strap beard. wearing the huge wrap around glasses so no one could see his eyes with boston sportswriters interviewing him inside the clubhouse last year with his name linked to the ped’s and steroids was an admission of guilt. typical rsn in denial of an over rated one dimensional player. next thing you know they will say he is a hall of famer.

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  12. Steve says:

    Hey, I’m still waiting for Ortiz to give us that explanation he promised last year about his PED test.

    I know he’s been busy helping OJ find the real killer, but I’m expecting something any day now.

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  13. Mike Savino says:

    Hey…seriously, does anyone else have a problem with market value evaluations for player value?

    Ortiz is obviously worth a good deal more to the Red Sox than for the Pittsburgh Pirates both because of his image in New England and because they figure to contend every year and his 2-4 wins above replacement figure to contribute to a penant race. Not to mention a win is worth more to the Red Sox because they have a larger fan base and more expensive season tickets than the Tampa Bay Rays.

    I mean, seriously, those are two factors that can’t be ignored, right? He’s worth the money to the Red Sox especially considering the DH situation for a bunch of AL teams around the league…

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  14. Kurt says:

    Let’s be real here, he’s now the same as Russell Branyan in terms of production and age. Seriously, they are like twins minus the body shape, skin color, language spoken, and PED allegations. Statistically, however, they are twins. Branyan has a much better chance of living up to a multi-year deal even with the back problems and he’s not getting anything north of $5MM a season and no more than two-years, Look at Vlad Guerrero and his small contract.

    If people are doubting whether or not the Mariners will take the $5MM option on Branyan that includes a buyout, than it’s a slam dunk for Ortiz to lose the option and to become a free agent. That said, Boston will re-sign him, but he’ll want a 4 year deal, probably for $28MM that’ll take him through retirement. Maybe $4MM signing bonus and $24MM ($6MM/yr.) OR $3MM signing bonus and $18MM ($6MM/yr.) in a guaranteed contract without options.

    As for the DH rule, it’s not going anywhere. Losing teams are more tollerable when they lose 8 to 7 than 2 to 1. Winning teams have more revenue and being able to spend an extra $10MM on a DH separates the good teams from the also rans, it’s why the AL playoffs has NY, Bos, Minn, Ana, o TB every year. Also, let’s be clear, so cutting the DH position doesn’t benefit any team in the AL, but supposing it would eventually pass, Ortiz is going to be retired in less than 4 seasons, so it’s a mute point in this discussion.

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  15. The right hand side is a little squiffy on my machine, running snow lepeord osx and opera, hmm might be might settings, i’ll let you know.

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