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Why Red Sox should extend Big Papi

6/10/2011

David Ortiz, 35, is the face of the Boston Red Sox, and he’s off to an uncharacteristically fast start, hitting .326/.394/.612/1.006 with 17 doubles, 15 home runs, 36 RBIs and an impressive 25-26 BB/K ratio. He is leading the Red Sox once again and giving the Fenway faithful hopes of another world championship.

Big Papi is eligible for free agency at season’s end, and the Red Sox should take care of him now. Give him a two-year extension at $15 million per year -- $30 million guaranteed, with no incentives, no awards, but plenty of respect.

The acquisitions of Adrian Gonzalez and Carl Crawford have re-invigorated Ortiz. He has more protection in the lineup than he’s had since he and Manny Ramirez brought a second World Series trophy back to Fenway Park in 2007. Ortiz is also still learning, even at age 35. Taking batting practice and watching nightly the way Gonzalez and Crawford bang the outside pitch the other way has been contagious for him. He’s starting to do the same, and the Ortiz over-shift is no longer as effective.

From a former general manager's perspective, there are several factors that should be considered before offering Ortiz an extension:

1. Length and consistency of career

Ortiz has played in 145 games six of the past seven years, including the past two seasons. He has driven in 100 runs or more in six of the past eight years, including 102 last year. This year's OPS is above his career average (.923). He doesn’t get hurt, and he stays consistent. His worst offensive year since joining the Red Sox in 2003 was the year he hit .238, but he still managed to belt out 28 home runs and drive in 99.

2. Injury risk

Since 2004, Ortiz has only been on the disabled list once, and that was in 2008. He doesn’t play a position in the field, so as a full-time DH, the risk of injury is the least of any position in baseball.

3. Production curve

Big Papi’s prime was from 2004-06, when he averaged 47 home runs, 111 RBIs and an OPS of 1.047. From 2007-10, he averaged 30 home runs and 101 RBIs and an OPS of .909. This year, he’s on pace to have his best statistical season since 2007. Bottom line: There are no signs of production decline since the 2007 season.

4. Leadership

He’s one of the leaders in the Red Sox clubhouse. Every player I’ve known who has played with Ortiz raves about him. He has a tremendous amount of baseball experience and wisdom and is always sharing it with his teammates. He is the type of leader who wants to help his teammates get better, not just himself.

5. Bat speed/hand–eye coordination

Bat speed is always one of the first indicators that a player is about to start his decline. Ortiz's bat speed is still there, the same as it was when he helped the Red Sox win a World Series in 2007. His hand-eye coordination and pitch recognition have stayed the same. There are no mechanical or physical issues with his swing or approach at the plate that show a player going backwards.

6. Passion

This is a very important factor in evaluating older players and the risk of giving them multi-year contracts. Do they still have the passion to win championships, to ride the buses, fly on the planes, check in and check out of hotels, to play the grueling schedule? Ortiz still has the passion. Look no further than earlier this week, when Yankee rookie pitcher Hector Noesi threw Ortiz a pitch inside and knocked him off the plate. Next pitch? Home run to right field. Next movement? Bat flip and a stare into the Yankees' dugout. That's passion. The next night, he doubled and shot another aggressive look toward the Yankees' dugout. The fire is still in his belly.

7. Free agent risk

There shouldn’t be much risk of Ortiz leaving because he wants to finish his career with the Red Sox. However, he once put on a New York Yankees hat for an ESPN TV advertisement, much to the dismay of the team’s mascot and thousands of Red Sox fans. Plus, Theo Epstein might have made a call on Mariano Rivera and/or Derek Jeter last November. Brian Cashman might make a call on Big Papi after Jorge Posada steps aside this winter. That's a risk the Red Sox don’t need to take.

8. Cost and length of contract

The Red Sox have taken care of Ortiz for a long time. He’s done the same for them. Boston will have paid him close to $83 million since 2003. He will have hit approximately 325 home runs while driving in over 1,000 runs in a Red Sox uniform. It's a perfect marriage. In baseball, you never know when a player is going to decline. Sometimes, it takes a few years and sometimes a hitter’s career ends unexpectedly on a hot summer night. There is always risk. Ortiz deserves more than a one-year deal. He should ask for three years and compromise at two. He should also get a raise from $13 million to $15 million. He’s earned it.

In the final analysis, the Red Sox should extend Big Papi!