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The Red Sox have paid David Ortiz plenty of money over the years, but maybe now it's time to pay him in multiple years.
In the least surprising news of the day for Red Sox fans, David Ortiz is still looking for a multi-year deal, and what he calls the respect that it would show towards him. In many ways, Ortiz is right: Boston should look into a multi-year deal for the player who has been and likely will be their most productive slugger. At the same time, though, Boston has been justified in not going down this road. No one else is going to offer Ortiz the combination of money and years he can get with the Red Sox, and with the way the market for designated hitters is set, they're technically already doing him a favor simply by paying him well over market for what the position tends to get, especially those who play it in their mid-30s.
Things have changed enough in the last few months to make it so that the two parties can likely find a middle ground. Or, at the least, should find this middle ground. The current situation is vastly different from what it's been in the recent past.
After the 2010 season, the Red Sox acquired Carl Crawford on a seven-year, $142 million contract. They traded for Adrian Gonzalez, and while what remained of his deal was not significant, the extension that would kick in beginning in 2012 would be, as he would be paid over $21 million per year on average through 2018. This came on the heels of the John Lackey contract (five years, $82.5 million from 2010-2014), as well as the Josh Beckett extension (four years, $68 million). There was a lot of money flying around, and more importantly, a lot of long-term deals. And Ortiz felt left out.
Boston didn't want to sign Ortiz to a multi-year deal just yet. He was one year removed from a campaign that didn't really get moving until the middle of the season, was heading into his age-35 season, and his peers, Vladimir Guerrero and Hideki Matsui -- who performed similarly to him in 2010 -- had both signed one-year deals for single-digit millions. Ortiz's club option for 2011 was $12.5 million, while Guerrero and Matsui combined in 2011 were paid just under $12 million. As the Red Sox still had room in the budget thanks to Gonzalez's low, one-year cost, picking up the option to see Ortiz play another year at a price they knew they could afford made sense. And given how little other free agent designated hitters made, it made sense for Ortiz, too, even if his preference was for multiple years, especially with everyone else getting them.
Ortiz was excellent in 2011. His April was the best it had been since he was still in his early 30s, and he finished the year at .309/.398/.554, good for one of the all-time great DH seasons from a 35-year-old. The thing is, none of those other mid-30s designated hitters were awarded deals of significant length after their contracts ended, and the Red Sox weren't about to make Ortiz the first. With less room in the budget heading into 2012 than in 2011, Ortiz received a raise by avoiding arbitration, but didn't get the extra year he publicly craved.
Boston's in a different situation now, though. A quarter-of-a-billion in future contracts has been dealt away for prospects and depth, and all of a sudden, the team is in no danger of approaching the luxury tax threshold. There's still a huge risk in signing Ortiz to more than a one-year deal, but the team now has the financial capability to swallow that risk should he miss a season, or most of one, in the second year of a deal. (Or, perish the thought, Ortiz finally declines like a hitter his age tends to do.)
If Ortiz falters or goes down, the Red Sox will still have the room to replace him if need be. That didn't exist before: committing to Ortiz for more than a year at a time presented a serious risk in terms of being able to find a replacement without blowing by the luxury tax, something that the new collective bargaining agreement punishes more harshly than it used to.
Now, though, the Red Sox have something like $90 million in salary for next year once you account for players on the 40-man roster and those who will receive pay bumps through their arbitration eligibility. That's a far cry from where they were heading into 2012, where roughly $10 million in off-season spending resulted in an Opening Day payroll north of $170 million. (And that doesn't even account for the full cost of the 40-man roster, simply the 25-man.)
That's plenty of room for Ortiz. Especially since, with another year added on, the Red Sox can likely reduce his average salary. Ortiz made $14.575 million in 2012. He was excellent, leading the American League in OPS and slugging... at least until he no longer had enough plate appearances to qualify, thanks to an Achilles injury that has limited him to 89 games. Combining the inherent risk of being older with the addition of a second year segues naturally into a reduction in average annual value. That's not to say the Sox need to short Ortiz if they give him a second year. Just that now maybe they can get away with something like two years, $20 million, or two seasons at $12 million a piece. It doesn't automatically mean his current rate times two, nor does it suggest Boston should go back to their previous tactic of roughly two years, $18 million following a strong campaign because it's all they could afford to do.
The overall dollar amount is almost less important than the fact that the Red Sox are now in a position to give Ortiz that second year he's been craving for longer than that. And this time around, there are fewer justifiable excuses to not pay the man the way he's been asking.