Papi not doing himself any favors

The following will be a rant in reaction to David Ortiz' interview for ESPN (with Colleen Dominguez) which aired last night. My original intentions are for it to be short. [Fail!]

Firstly, Papi was asked a good question. Did he think by season's end that Terry Francona held the respect of his players? The pause that followed was startling--as if to say promptly, "Well, the obvious answer to that question would be no. No, he did not," all of which he had time to say during his pause. He then meekly offered, "I think so." Maybe he did think so. Maybe he needed time to give that good question fair consideration. But his response to the issue was a far cry from offering loyal support to his manager and teammates, contrasting noticeably, for example, with Pedroia's response in a WEEI interview given the same day.

But enough with that. Besides the past he was also asked about the future, and without prompting he expressed reservations about re-signing with the Red Sox. Again speaking meekly, he said,

There's too much drama, man. There's too much drama. I have been thinking about a lot of things. I don't know if I want to be part of this drama for next year. It's something that I would talk about a little when the time comes.

Then comes the kind of sensationalizing question Dominguez is required to ask if she wants to keep her job: would he consider playing for the (gasp!) Yankees? Ortiz' complete response has been edited as evidenced by differing content in the video and the accompanying online article. But I think an accurate representation would be this:

That's something that I gotta think about. I've been here on the Red Sox a long time, and I've seen how everything goes down between these two ballclubs.... [The Yankees' situation] is great from what I hear. It's a good situation to be involved in. Who doesn't want to be involved in a good organization where everything goes down the right way? You know, like, they lost, they lost just like we did; they just went to the first round of the playoffs, you know. And I haven't heard nobody coming out killing everybody just because they lost.

I will forgo here comparing the Red Sox' and Yankees' 2011 seasons and why, besides the difference of a single five-game series, they might have elicited different responses. I will also forgo discussing how the aging Yankee superstars have been made to feel by their management in instances such as contract negotiations. I will instead take a sympathetic look at Papi's situation as a Red Sox icon entering free agency as the premier (albeit aging) player at the least valuable position in the game.

Like Derek Jeter last offseason, David Ortiz stands to make money way over market value only with his home team on account of the brand value and box office draw that result from his relationship with the fans. By messing with that value, he is tossing away precious negotiation leverage. By far his best opportunity at a good deal and sustained respect within the game is by eventually re-signing with the Red Sox. Fortunately for him, the Red Sox have definite needs this offseason, needs which he could possibly provide.

First and foremost, the front office needs to overturn and reconstruct the clubhouse culture and will be very interested to know whether Papi can be a part of those efforts. I sincerely think he can be, but in this interview I do not see Papi taking that path. He repeatedly blames the problems in Boston on all the "drama," citing the drama as the cause of his dissatisfaction with the organization. When asked if he identifies the "drama" as the alleged behavior of his teammates, he enthusiastically said he does not, claiming all such behavior is consistent with the winning Red Sox teams of 2004 and 2007. The suggestion then seems to be made that holding players accountable for such behavior, blaming the September collapse on the behavior and attitudes of the players, is in fact what he means by the "drama." He disagrees, for example, with the alleged behavior of the starting pitchers on their off-days, but then says unequivocally, "To be honest with you, starting pitchers are on their own when they're not pitching. That wasn't a problem." This does not sound like a player who would help the team stem the tide of entitlement and change the clubhouse culture. Even worse, he goes further and charges the owners with the responsibility of reversing the team's fortunes.

All the drama, all the little, stupid things that I see going on around here--you're not gonna solve any problems with that, we're not gonna go back to the World Series, you know. We're not gonna, what, play better in the September that is already gone. You know, I think that the solution of the whole thing is [for] our owners to do what they've been doing, you know, try to fix things, and get ready to go for next year, but....

Dustin Pedroia in his interview, it should be said, likewise defended the players' behavior and attitudes, covering his teammates and blaming the collapse on mere poor performance. But he did so with no sense of entitlement or passive-aggressive counterattack. He did well (he normally does). He takes responsibility for a return to success next year, which is the attitude that team owners will definitely look for in Ortiz when negotiating with him this winter. There is such a great opportunity for Papi here to create a positive attitude for next season, adding all the caveats of an as-yet unsigned free agent. At this point nothing, I think, could bolster his value more in the eyes of his most important suitors, the Red Sox management--and through them he could increase his leverage with other ballclubs if he really wanted to leave.

Because maybe Papi's passive-aggressive attack at the Red Sox bosses is justified. If they purposefully leaked dirt on Francona to needlessly smear his name upon departing--after all the covering up he did for the team--yeah, they did a bad thing. Maybe, even, they would be wrong to blame the players' commitment levels when, hey, all those September losses were just the craziness of baseball. And maybe he would prefer to walk away from his greatest negotiation leverage than pretend that he still respected the Red Sox organization. But he is not doing himself any favors. Designated hitter is the least valued position, and only fourteen teams use it. The Yankees, given the current state of their roster, would have no interest in signing him, really, except possibly out of spite for the Red Sox--and if the Red Sox expressed they were done with him, then it would only be out of spite to Red Sox fans. That would not be productive. If the Red Sox and Ortiz sour on each other, the Yankees will no longer be interested in driving up his price, and he will fall subject to a weak market. The bulk of his prestige will be gone, while the Red Sox as an institution will move on without him.

But nothing is done that cannot be undone, I don't think. This too can pass, if he can just ignore the "drama" and contribute to a positive attitude. Unlike Francona and Epstein, whose feelings toward the team Ortiz appears to have adopted, the players have more time to recover and renew their perspectives. Just think about it: Next year Ellsbury, Pedroia, Gonzalez, and Ortiz could again lead the Red Sox offense, our offense. That thought makes me happy at least.

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