Now that spring training is underway after one of the best Red Sox hot stove seasons in recent memory, it’s that time of year when everyone makes predictions and sets expectations for the upcoming season.
This year, Sox fans are eager to see the results of Theo Epstein‘s capacious work during the winter. But over the last couple of weeks I’ve wondered if the big acquisitions of December have foreshadowed some potential losses that could be on the way.
The business of baseball can be pretty cutthroat, and ever since baseball became profitable, players and executives alike have learned not to get attached to a city, jersey or fan base. Unlike fans, executives can’t afford to let their feelings get in the way. It’s like they always say — if a baseball executive listens to the fans, they’ll soon be sitting with them. But how do you say goodbye to an old friend and hero?
While Adrian Gonzalez and Carl Crawford are just starting their Boston careers, there are others who are seemingly reaching the end of theirs. Guys like captain Jason Varitek, knuckleballer Tim Wakefield, closer Jonathan Papelbon and designated hitter David Ortiz could all be on their way out relatively soon.
It wasn’t that long ago that those four were part of the team’s foundation. While Tek and Wake have succumbed to the natural phenomena that is the hands of time, Paps and Papi could still have years of baseball left to play. The question is, how long and for what team?
Though both share the common dilemma of not knowing what their Red Sox future holds, their reasons are very different. In Papelbon’s case, it’s no secret that he wants to be paid top closer money, and the Sox aren’t going to give it to him. Ortiz, on the other hand, wants a long-term contract, and I’m not sure that the Sox want to go there. Sox executives have to do what’s best for the team in the long haul, but how do they define “best?”
Since his arrival in Beantown, prior to the 2003 season, he’s gone from the little known David Americo Arias Ortiz to the present icon we know and love as “Big Papi.” He’s put up impressive numbers in each of his eight seasons with the Red Sox, while finishing in the top five in MVP voting five times (a remarkable feat for a DH), and helped win two World Series titles.
In 1,141 regular season games with Boston he has a batting average of .286 while compiling 1,205 hits to go along with the 291 home runs and 932 runs batted in. His smile, charisma, philanthropic work and game-winning heroics have made him the most beloved Boston athlete since perhaps Mo Vaughn. In my experience with him, I can honestly tell you that his kindness and humility are somewhat of a rarity in his trade, but they are very real characteristics. I won’t make this into a David Ortiz love letter, I just want to put into perspective how much the guy has meant to this town.
Epstein has an extremely difficult decision to make, and obviously a lot of it is riding on Ortiz’s performance throughout the season. The harsh reality is that Ortiz could be trade bait. As we all know, Theo isn’t afraid to pull the trigger on any trade if he thinks it will help his team. When he sent Nomar Garciaparra to the Cubs, the majority of Bostonians were calling for his head, but then the team went on to win their first World Series title in 86 years.
Now, I don’t know if trading Papi is probable, but it is possible. When the trade deadline arrives, I could easily see an AL team in contention express their need for a power hitter, with the understanding that Ortiz would be a rent-a-player. And maybe Boston doesn’t get a “big” name in return, but perhaps a couple of young studs to build with instead. In Boston’s case, if the team seems to be doing as well as expected by July, already boasting a left-heavy lineup, they may decide to ship Ortiz and go with a DH by committee.
I’d love to see Ortiz wearing a Boston uniform for the rest of his career. Unfortunately, we have to understand that baseball is a business after all. Who knows maybe it will happen — only time will tell.
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