David Ortiz and the Boston Red Sox are nearing that bridge again.
The Red Sox don’t need to make a decision right now regarding Ortiz’s contract, which expires after the 2014 season. But the slugger is seeking a multiyear deal, and the club should consider offering an extension sooner rather than later.
Ortiz said Sunday that while he’d like to retire as a member of the Red Sox, it’s possible that he could play for another team in 2015 and beyond. That’s a pretty substantial demand for a designated hitter who will turn 39 after this season, but the Red Sox would be wise to lock up Ortiz this winter to avoid any potential distractions in 2014.
The Red Sox already are facing a difficult decision regarding Jon Lester, who, like Ortiz, is a free agent after this year. Lester could be the best pitcher available on the free-agent market next offseason, and the Red Sox certainly will need to pony up some cash to keep the lefty around, even though he indicated last week that he’d accept a hometown discount. You can bet that Lester’s future will continue to be a talking point for as long as he remains unsigned or until he signs elsewhere, and it certainly won’t do the Red Sox any favors to have Ortiz’s uncertain future hanging over their heads as well.
Ortiz, who is entering the second year of a two-year contract he signed last offseason, typically is outspoken, and it’s part of what makes him such a fascinating athlete. Big Papi always is willing to say what’s on his mind, and while that’s refreshing in an age when so many athletes go by the book, it also means that his next contract could be a conversation topic for the entire season if he doesn’t sign an extension this offseason. It isn’t exactly the end of the world, but extending Ortiz now rather than next offseason will help keep the focus on on-field matters.
The 2013 Red Sox showed an incredible ability to avoid distractions, which was a stark contrast from 2011 and 2012, when off-the-field drama generated plenty of headlines. Ortiz’s impending free agency might not threaten the status quo too much, but it’s a side bar with the potential to do more harm than good.
Obviously, there are advantages to waiting until next offseason to re-sign Ortiz. While the 38-year-old is coming off a strong 2013 campaign that was capped by a historic World Series performance, he will be another year older and it’s reasonable to expect some regression at some point. The Red Sox might want to wait to see how Ortiz fares this year — his 18th big league season — before making a potentially sizable financial commitment. After all, Ortiz’s value is extremely high right now because of his 2013 performance, so waiting could save the Red Sox a few bucks.
When you get right down to it, though, a contract extension for Ortiz should be inevitable. He has become more than just a feared hitter in the middle of the Red Sox’ order. He is the face of the franchise, and perhaps even the face of Major League Baseball. Those factors should be trumped by on-field production at the negotiating table, but letting Ortiz walk away over a few extra dollars would have serious repercussions.
The Red Sox might need to pay more to lock up Ortiz now, even though Boston would be competing with 29 other teams next offseason for his services. It’s an investment worth making, though, as it will only ensure a smoother future for all parties involved.
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