Free agency officially begins on November 3, when teams can now sign players who were not on their 2012 roster. Today is November 1, and David Ortiz is not currently re-signed with the Red Sox. The clock is ticking on this exclusive negotiating window, and it's starting to sound like Ortiz might hit free agency after all. That's what WEEI's Rob Bradford is hearing.
Before you go and hide in your panic room, though, let's think this through. Ortiz might hts free agency, sure, but that's a negotiating tool. So too is Boston's coming qualifying offer of $13.3 million, which will ensure that Boston at least receives a second first-round draft pick as compensation, should Ortiz sign elsewhere. Both sides will be bluffing a bit: Ortiz doesn't necessarily have somewhere else that's obvious to go, where he is going to get that second year that he's craved, and Boston would likely rather have Ortiz than that draft pick. But Ortiz can try to force Boston's hand by threatening to explore the market, while Boston can hope Ortiz gets nervous about losing his leverage in negotiations due to Boston's newly imposed price of a first-round pick for the rights to take Ortiz away.
We've actually seen this episode before. Last off-season, Ortiz was a possibility to hit the free agent market. Boston offered him arbitration. Ortiz was not pleased about this, but the compensation pick that comes out of an arbitration offer helped diminish an already limited market for the mid-30s designated hitter. Eventually, he signed with Boston for a slight raise to avoid an arbitration hearing. This time around, the Red Sox are likely to go two years with Ortiz in order to have him around in 2013, regardless of what could come after. That means that the current disagreement is over a few million in salary over the life of the deal, and eventually, Ortiz is going to see that it's negotiate a two-year deal, or take the $13.3 million qualifier. There's a very good chance those will be his two best offers on the table, just like his one-year contract last season ended up being.
Yes, David Ortiz was Boston's best hitter in 2012, and the lineup in 2013 will be far less productive without him. But Boston can just as easily point out that he was limited due to an Achilles injury that kept him out for months, one he's receiving off-season treatment for. The fact that two years is even on the table is already a sign of respect and good faith in Ortiz's abilities, and those are and have been areas of concern for Ortiz in the past when the negotiating table comes into play.
Ortiz has leverage, but so do the Red Sox, who are very likely Ortiz's best bet at receiving the respect that he's claimed to be important and inherent in a contract offer. He could very well go off and sign with the Rangers, Orioles, or Indians, who could all use a designated hitter and are either in contention or aiming to be. But it's far more of a question whether any of the three would be willing to give Ortiz what Boston will in a deal, especially if the Red Sox use that qualifying offer tomorrow before the deadline hits.
Ortiz might enter free agency, but even if he does, it's likely delaying the inevitable. Boston is still more likely than not to extend Ortiz's Red Sox career past the decade point within the coming days or weeks.