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David Ortiz For Two Years: Does It Make Sense?

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David Ortiz wants two. (Photo by Jim Rogash/Getty Images)
David Ortiz wants two. (Photo by Jim Rogash/Getty Images)
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For eight years, David Ortiz has been the Red Sox. More than Jason Varitek, Manny Ramirez, Dustin Pedroia, or any other star or fan favorite vet, it's been all about David Ortiz. For his 40+ home run seasons, his walk-offs, and for just being Papi.

But the last few seasons haven't quite been the same. For whatever reason, it's been slow start after slow start for David Ortiz, and each year, the fans get restless, and start thinking "maybe this is it, maybe it's time to bench Ortiz." Sometimes it didn't even stop there; I've never been more upset with parts of the Red Sox fanbase than when I have heard a smattering of boos with David Ortiz coming to the plate. Never a majority, but even so.

It's no surprise that Papi is not a huge fan of this criticism. In fact, in a recent interview with WEEI, he even suggested it may have effected his performance:

"I'm just a little worn out because of the negativity that I've dealt with the last few years," Ortiz insisted. "I don't think there's any baseball player that can deal with all the distractions that I deal with and play baseball."

In that same interview, Ortiz reiterated his desire for a multi-year contract, saying he would be "uncomfortable" if the Sox simply picked up his option. While there's little doubt that David Ortiz will be back with the Red Sox next year, how they go about it is entirely up in the air. My question here is: is there any reason the Sox should agree to a two-year deal?

First, let's assume that any two-year deal would be for about $20 million. There's no way the team will just pay him the same amount on a longer contract as they could by picking up his option, so a 20% discount to $10 million per year seems about right.

Now, WAR valuations being what they are, it's hard for any DH to be worth $12.5 million a year-Ortiz barely broke that mark last year--but let's take a step back from stuff like that and look at him purely offensively. After all, unless the Red Sox have Youkilis go down at some point in the season (I cannot knock on wood hard enough), Ortiz would have to be better than the gold glover defensively for his playing the position to have any practical value for the team.

Last year seemed like something of a revival for Ortiz. After suffering through yet another slow start, collecting just eight hits in April, Ortiz exploded in May for a line of .363/.424/.788, averaging out to a decent level for much of the rest of the year before killing it again in September. Still, even ignoring April, he was not the old Papi. In his best years, Ortiz just did not see many months of .850 OPS production. In fact...

April 2003 - .657

May 2004 - .823

April 2005 - .862

May 2006 - .802

That was it from 2003-2007. Compare that to a .524 mark in April, .848 in July, and .855 in August. Then there's the fact that, at 28%, his K-rate has risen dramatically, and he was running a little high on BABIP despite not putting up uncharacteristically high line drive percentages. Make no mistake: even in this renaissance year, Papi was not the old Papi. He probably never will be again.

Realistically, what can we expect? Probably more of the same. Another 2010, or maybe 2008 at the worst. And at that level of production, sure, the Red Sox can definitely spare the $12.5 million it'd take to bring Ortiz back compared to the huge investment it would likely take to get an equivalent player or improvement. But what we do see is a declining player. Maybe his numbers are up from the last two years, but if you factor in BABIP and the wrist injury, you probably see something much closer to a trend. And when it comes to declining players at Ortiz' age, the shorter the deal the better. Adding $7.5 million to Ortiz' deal for an extra year doesn't make a lot of sense given the chances that Ortiz' production falls off a cliff.

Verdict:  Pick up the option, pass on the extension.

OK, so that's the super-logical, statistical approach to things. Now let's look at the rest of the picture.

As I said earlier, David Ortiz is the Red Sox. And sometimes, things like that matter more than the math. If David Ortiz wants a (reasonably priced) two-year deal, then David Ortiz should get a two-year deal. Part of it is strategy: the Red Sox can't afford to always be cold and calculating when it comes to negotiations. If a free agent comes down to two big-market teams willing to pay them a ton of money, stuff like this comes into the picture. Fans care about it too. With so many saying that this team lacks both heart and an identity (personally, with guys like Pedroia, Lester, and Youkilis, I don't buy that, but the argument is out there), it just doesn't need to come off as cold-hearted to the most popular player in Boston. It's not like this is a foreign concept to the Red Sox, either. Just a couple years ago they gave Jason Varitek a two-year deal after by far the worst season in his long career.

When it comes right down to it, $7.5 million is not too high a price to put on loyalty, especially when Ortiz could very well be worth the money at the plate to begin with. In a year where the Yankees are expected to be dropping mounds of cash on a highly undeserving Jeter (statistically), it really behooves the Red Sox to once more put down the calculator and just shake hands with the man who's been synonymous with their team for the better part of a decade.

Verdict:  Give the man his security. Sign Big Papi!