BOSTON — The afternoon following his team’s sudden exit in the American League Division Series, Red Sox manager John Farrell likened the feeling to having his “face planted into a brick wall.”
Farrell and his staff are going to have to pick themselves up quickly, though, because there’s one pressing offseason dilemma looming.
In case you haven’t heard, David Ortiz’s baseball career is over after 20 seasons. In his wake, the 40-year-old designated hitter leaves not only a massive power gap in the middle of Boston’s lineup, but also a huge void in the clubhouse, where he was entrenched as the wise veteran leader on a team with a promising young core.
In short: Farrell and Red Sox president of baseball operations Dave Dombrowski have their work cut out for them this offseason.
“I don’t think you ever replace David Ortiz with what he brings to an organization or to a community,” Dombrowski said Tuesday in a press conference at Fenway Park. “He is an icon. He is one of a kind. But we’ll do our best job to replace the offensive aspect however we can. It won’t come from one person hitting 38 home runs and knocking (in) 140 runs, whatever it was. But we’ll do our best to try to combine what we have and keep an open-mindedness to how we get better in that regard.”
Internally, first baseman Hanley Ramirez appears the most likely candidate to serve in Ortiz’s role. He put up a career year — a .286 batting average, 30 home runs, 111 RBIs and an .866 OPS — to nearly match Big Papi’s insane 38-homer, 127-RBI season. Ramirez also has played DH in the past, though the 32-year-old played a solid first base this season and Dombrowski likes the idea of keeping his options open.
“He might be both (first base and DH),” Dombrowski said. “I don’t really know that answer. I think he’s capable of doing both. To me, he did a fine job at first base. Personally, I like the availability of the option of doing both, because I think that if you have that flexibility, it probably fits with us better with the personnel that we have going forward. But we also have to have conversations with Hanley, too, before we get to that point.”
There’s also the free-agent market, where Ortiz himself said Boston should pursue Toronto Blue Jays slugger Edwin Encarnacion. But the price tag on a guy like Encarnacion will be high, and before free agency begins in early November, the Red Sox are focusing on what they have in front of them.
That could mean either one full-time designated hitter, like Ramirez, or a “DH by committee” approach. The Red Sox are realistic, though, and know they’ll have to temper expectations in filling Ortiz’s void.
“If that guy hits 38 home runs and drives in 130, you’ll take that full-time DH,” Farrell said. ” … I don’t know if that hitter exists right now, to be honest with you.”
Thumbnail photo via Neville E. Guard/USA TODAY Sports Images