Red Sox Exercise David Ortiz’s 2011 Option

In April it seemed like a long shot — perhaps an impossibility. A month later it was a near certainty. For nearly the entire season we’ve known that the Red Sox would exercise David Ortiz‘s $12.5 million option for 2011. Today they did. Ortiz might not be happy about it, since he expressed his discontent with the option on multiple occasions. But for the Red Sox it was clearly the smart move.

By exercising Ortiz’s option, rather than working out a long-term deal, the Red Sox limit their risk exposure. In each of the last three seasons Ortiz has produced a wOBA under .300 in the season’s first month. While he has recovered each time, there is going to be a time, as The Boston Globe’s Peter Abraham says, that he doesn’t turn it around. If that happens in 2011, Ortiz’s age-35 season, the Red Sox are out $12.5 million. If they sign him to an extension and it happens in 2011, or even in 2012, they would be out quite a bit more.

Still, despite the early season slumps, it’s tough to envision Ortiz collapsing in 2011. Last year he surged back in May with a .501 wOBA, and then produced excellent offensive numbers through the end of the season. His .380 wOBA for the season ranked second among DHs, just .007 behind Luke Scott. He also hit for more power than he has in three years, a .259 ISO. It’s not quite to the level of his .349 ISO in 2006, but it was still tops among DHs.

History is on Ortiz’s side, too. There are 52 instances of a player age 35 or older taking more than 90 percent of his PA as a DH and qualifying for the batting title. Of those, 43 have produced an OPS+ of 100 or better — 25 have been 120 or better. Atop the list are two players who regularly come to mind when thinking of older DHs, Edgar Martinez and Jim Thome. This isn’t to say that Ortiz will follow in their footsteps, but rather to point out the precedent. In other words, it’s not a foregone conclusion that his production will decline immediately. The Red Sox, though, are smart for hedging against it.

What the Red Sox might prefer to do next year is put Ortiz in a platoon situation. He was horrible against left-handed pitching in 2010, a .268 wOBA in 200 PA. This marked the third consecutive year in which his production against lefties dipped. Pairing Ortiz with a lefty masher, preferably one who can play the field as to preserve roster flexibility, would help the Red Sox considerably. It could perhaps resemble the situation the Twins had in 2010 with Thome at DH against right-handed pitching.

For the Red Sox, the move made all the sense in the world. They get back a player who has produced excellent numbers in the past, and who, despite poor starts in each of the last three years, has recovered well. They might find themselves in a difficult position next year should Ortiz again produce at a high level, but that’s a risk I’m sure they’re willing to take. Ortiz might not like it, but he really has no say in the matter. The Red Sox can now focus on finding players to fill other positions in their lineup.

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Joe also writes about the Yankees at River Ave. Blues.

23 Responses to “Red Sox Exercise David Ortiz’s 2011 Option”

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  1. NYRoyal says:

    Is this a good value move for the Red Sox? Over the last three years, Ortiz has put up 2.0, 0.8 and 3.3 WAR. And he’s not young, so decline should be expected. Is he ever going to put up 3.0 WAR again? I doubt any projection will ever have him that high.

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    • Hank says:

      I was about to write the same thing… it’s fair value if he produces at almost exactly the same level as last year (maybe a little dropoff)

      But if you look at his 3 year average (~2WAR), there is a fair amount of risk involved both in terms of injury and production.

      Or to look at it another way… would any other team pay Ortiz 12.5mil on the FA market given the many current DH/1B FA’s?

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    • delv says:

      citing WAR as an argument against signing a DH is ridiculous. given the (IMO, pointless) position adjustment, a DH’s WAR is only going to look good if he hits like Babe Ruth.

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  2. Ross says:

    Insert picture of Joe in a Yankee hat and comment on his obvious anti-Sox bias here!

    Anyway, assuming we’re ignore the emotional ties Ortiz has to the Red Sox, I can’t agree with this move from a dollar/performance standpoint. The market for DHs has collapsed in recent years, highlighted by the recent contracts given to Matsui, Vlad, etc. Ortiz may have mashed RHP after May last year, but by your own admission the Sox essentially gave $12 million to a DH who needs a platoon partner.

    Add to that he and his bat speed are a year older, I would be surprised if he maintained his 2010 levels of production. He kills mistakes but also was very prone to the inside fastball early on. If he ends up repeating/exceeding 2010, god bless him.

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    • this guy says:

      You don’t understand. This was a decision made under the Theo regime. The writers on this site and many others like it, are compelled to slob his knob, therefore this move is supported.

      If Omar Minaya or Kenny Williams makes this move, there are no less than 5 scathing articles on the decision, and shitting on David Ortiz would become a new theme on all “saber” based sites.

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  3. Wells says:

    If yer not happy with a club exercising a one year option then don’t sign a contract with a one year option. Like duh.

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  4. NBarnes says:

    I think the value of the one-year contract to the team is somewhat underrated. We all sneer at the silly people who give out multi-year contracts to ‘established veterans’. But one-year contracts to established veterans to fill a roster hole? Those are awesome! This move does nothing to limit Boston’s options in the future while, really, giving them as good a chance at having plus production out of DH as any other team in the league. Even if it ends up being an overpay, overpaying for one year for a greater degree of security is valuable.

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  5. Danmay says:

    If this was a team without Boston’s financial resources then I would expect this move to be critized. $12.5 million is a lot for a DH that barely provided that value a year ago given the options available on the FA market. But this is Boston and this is David Ortiz, so I this decision makes a lot of sense to me.

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  6. Mr Punch says:

    No-brainer. It’s only money, for one year. Doesn’t even preclude bringing on another DH-type, as long as he can play in the field some for ’11. The only doubt about this was the level of concern about Ortiz’s discontent with one year.

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  7. JCA says:

    I’d be curious if people think this would preclude turing around and negotiating perhaps a 2 year contract with another option for an AAV below $10 MM. Ortiz claims to want long term security and a chance to stay in Boston. given the DH market, can the Sox turn around and say, “if you want to stay, you have to play for less.” It still might be dead money in 2012, but it would also be easy enough to eat. sort of like Bernie Williams his final year.

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    • You beat me to it. I think there isn’t anything stopping the Sox from negotiating a longer term deal with Ortiz and tearing up the option year (two years at $18.5M sounds about right). The thing this does is it guarantees Ortiz is in a Red Sox uniform next season whether the longer term deal comes to fruition or not.

      Also, letting Ortiz ‘test the market’ might have the problem of upsetting him. I can’t remember if it was here or elsewhere but players are more likely to sign a cheaper contract with a new team than they are with their existing one and I’m going to guess the Red Sox were willing to over pay a bit on a one year deal to make sure Ortiz doesn’t go anywhere.

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  8. The Duder says:

    Hey… this is a well written and thought out article. I’ll try not to seem so shocked next time.

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  9. pft says:

    “Ortiz might not be happy about it, since he expressed his discontent with the option on multiple occasions.”

    That is another media myth. The debate in Boston was whether the option should be picked up, with some local writers arguing that it should not. Rather than just pick it up and end all debate, the Red Sox wanted to discuss the matter with Ortiz this week. He was quoted as preferring a multi-year deal to them picking up the option, but duh, who would not. It is likely the Red Sox would have liked to work out a 2 year deal at less AAV than 12.5 million, and Papi obviously was not enthusiastic, thus, the Red Sox did the only thing they could do short of letting Papi test the FA market.

    The Red Sox had the highest OPS in the AL at 2 positions, 3B and DH. They are already losing Beltre because they did not risk giving him a 3-4 year deal last year. Losing Papi to the Yankees, Rays (they have 40 million coming off the books) or even the Blue Jays (they need to find a way to fill some seats) would not go over too well to a fan base skeptical about owners purchase of Liverpool not having an impact of Red Sox player decisions and not too happy about doing nothing down the stretch to improve the team.

    The red Sox had no choice but to either pick up the option, commit to a multi year deal, or risk losing him to FA. This was a no brainer.

    As for Papis happiness or not, he is the highest paid DH at 12.5 million, and his endorsements bring him another 6+ million. I think he is happy.

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    • teejay1324 says:

      Good points all around except it’s kind of hard to say Ortiz’s potential unhappiness was a “media myth” when Ortiz himself stated on more than one occasion that he preferred a long term deal because if he came back for one year there would be more pressure on him and he felt fans/media would jump all over him if he struggled out of the gate again, which seems likely after ’09-’10.

      Ortiz’s issues with the option wasn’t some CHB spawned myth, this one was actually a legit concern. Theo said yesterday that he spoke directly to Ortiz and claims Ortiz said he is “cool” with the option being picked up. Have to take him at his word, but we’ll see how cool with it he is next season.

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      • pft says:

        Look, given a choice between a 1 year option for 12.5 million and a 3 year deal worth double that or more, obviously a players preference would be for the multi-year deal.

        He was only asked about it because the Red Sox delayed in picking up the option, probably in the hope they could get him to sign a 2 year deal at 14-16 million.

        So Papis preferences/Red Sox options were:

        1. Multi-year deal at reasonable money
        2. Option
        3. Low ball 2 year deal.

        Papi was cool with 1-2 anot so with 3, nd likely would have tested FA if they did not pick up his option and was offered 3.

        But to say he would be unhappy with the Red Sox picking up his option just because he expressed a preference (negotiating) for something more is a media exaggeration.

        His argument for picking up the option was absurd of course, a multi-year deal if offered would likely have been his last contract. If he got off to a bad start, there would be more questions, not less. The big difference is he would not have to care, as his money is guaranteed, while playing for a contract makes him care more.

        So neither the Red Sox nor Papi got their first choice, and Papis going to have to spend more time working out this offseason than he would have liked, while the Red Sox are going to sweat over him being a FA if he has a great 2011.

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  10. SamC says:

    Why not let him walk and go after Adam Dunn?

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