It's happening again. David Ortiz is nearing the end of his contract (it ends after this season) and he is making it publicly known that he would like to work out some sort of extension in the near future. There is a large section of the fan base that is incredibly annoyed by the publicity with which Ortiz does this, and they have a valid point. In an ideal world, these conversations would be had behind closed doors, not through the media. However, some people take it to the extreme, and they don't think about these types of situations from Ortiz's standpoint. I've heard everything from calling him greedy to calling him overpaid, entitled and even lazy (with an asinine cheapshot directed at his weight.) Despite there likely being a better way to go about asking for a new deal, Ortiz deserves more security in his contract, and should receive his desired extension sooner rather than later.
At this point, we should all know that this is how the face of the Red Sox is. His personality has been like this since he arrived in Boston prior to the 2003 season. As he's had more success, the larger-than-life persona he's cultivated has only increased, and for good reason. He just won't shy away from answering questions media members ask him. Sometimes, this can be a little annoying in the Bill Belichick era of Boston sports, but it's the way Ortiz is. People have asked him about his contract situation, and he's given his honest assessment of how he feels about heading into the last year of his current deal. It's completely normal for someone to be uncomfortable going into a season without any certainty for what will happen following the season, especially an established star like David Ortiz. Again, there is surely a better way for the DH to do this, but that doesn't mean he should be punished for it.
The fact of the matter is, when you discard however you feel about the spectacle he is making out of the entire situation, he deserves to be given an extension. After a brief step back towards the end of last decade in which Ortiz was merely a good hitter instead of an elite one, he's climbed back among the game's best bats. Over the past three seasons, he has hit .311/.401/.571 (157 wRC+). Using wRC+ as a barometer of overall offensive skill, Boston's star has been the fifth best hitter in the game since 2011, between Ryan Braun and Jose Bautista. Production like that should be rewarded with job security.
Considering the kind of shape baseball's free agent market is in, the Red Sox should be even more motivated to get a deal done as soon as possible, as Ortiz is currently being well underpaid for a hitter of his caliber. This past season, he was paid just $14 million, or the same amount of money as the qualifying offer that was extended to players like Ervin Santana, Stephen Drew and Nelson Cruz. He will receive a raise of just one million dollars in 2014. Looking at the players he is surrounded by on the wRC+ leaderboard from the last three years, and it is clear he could stand to make a lot more, especially with the league having a massive perceived lack of power. Of the four players within two spots of Ortiz on the board, three of them - Joey Votto, Braun and Matt Kemp - have signed extensions that will pay them at least $20 million. Of course, they are younger, but it is clear that on the open market, Ortiz would be offered prices that Boston would not feel comfortable paying.
Photo Courtesy of Jared Wickerham
Age, though, is the obvious concern in this situation. In 2014, Ortiz will be playing in his age-38 season, and any extension that involves a raise in 2015 and beyond would be a huge risk. However, that's how the market works, and that's why it is so important that the team has done a great job of building from within. When players come into the league, they are vastly underpaid, while the veterans are overpaid. Mike Trout is the posterboy for this, as he's been the game's best player the last two years while making the league minimum. Ortiz will probably be overpaid for the next few years, but assuming a gradual drop-off in his production, he will still be an important bat in the lineup.
None of this even considers what he means to the city and the franchise, either. Dustin Pedroia maybe the fan favorite, but David Ortiz is the very definition of a face of a franchise. After the Marathon Bombings, he was the one who took the microphone and made the memorable speech. In 20 years when we look back at this, the most successful period in the franchise's history, Ortiz will be the one who we remember, the star who played for all three (maybe more) champions. There is hidden value in keeping someone that important on the roster, as seeing him play in another uniform at this point would be devastating.
Is this the best way for Ortiz to go about asking for a new contract? Of course not. We'd all like it to be done privately rather than through the media. That being said, there is no question that he deserves an extension, likely one that involved a pay increase. If it were me, I'd guarantee him the 2015 season for about $18 million, with some sort of mutual option or vesting option at the same price for 2016. After that, I'd try to institute the same type of rolling option format they had with TIm Wakefield at the end of his career, to ensure that David Ortiz will never wear another uniform for the rest of his professional career. He's the face of the franchise, and he deserves some contract security at this point in his career.