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Should the Red Sox extend David Ortiz's contract?

Unlike in the past, this is an easy question to answer.

Jim Rogash

David Ortiz signed a two-year deal with the Red Sox prior to the 2013 season, despite the uncertainty surrounding his injured Achilles. He returned to Boston in April, and mashed from that point forward in one of the greatest seasons ever for a 37-year-old, then topped it off with one of the single strongest World Series' performances in the Fall Classic's storied history. It's no surprise, then, that Ortiz has his agent working on securing a one-year extension that would keep him on the Red Sox through 2015 and his age-39 season.

Unlike in the recent past, when figuring out Ortiz year-to-year was the thing to do, the Red Sox are in a position where extending his deal by another year shouldn't be a problem. When Ben Cherington first took over as Red Sox general manager, Boston didn't have the financial flexibility to promise Ortiz money too far into the future: it was as simple as Ortiz being dead money, should he and his bat slow down as he hit his late-30s. Following the Nick Punto trade to the Dodgers that cleared over $250 million from Boston's books, though, it was much easier for the Red Sox to give Ortiz that second year, knowing budgetary and luxury tax concerns were no longer at the forefront as they were.

Now, there is likely even more room for the Sox to keep Ortiz around for an extra year, even if it doesn't go as well as either side hopes. As of now, the Red Sox have just over $62 million committed to the 2015 payroll, as the contracts of Ortiz, Jon Lester, Jake Peavy, Ryan Dempster, John Lackey, A.J. Pierzynski, Koji Uehara, Jonny Gomes, and David Ross are all ending, as are those of relievers Andrew Miller, Franklin Morales, and Burke Badenhop. That's a whole lot of holes to fill, but Boston might not have to sign a single starting pitcher given the rotation they'll have at Triple-A Pawtucket next year, and Lackey is set to return on an option that will pay him the league minimum. It's unlikely any of those spots will be filled by someone who is earning significantly more than what they're already shelling out given their farm system, either, not given Boston's new-found policy for reasonable, mid-range offers on the free agent market, and their lack of interest in mega-deals.

184432606Photo credit: Jared Wickerham

In fact, given Ortiz is asking the Red Sox for an extension for his age-39 season with a year to go on his current deal, Boston might even be able to pay him slightly less than they are for 2014, or, at the least, no more than that. Ortiz's 2014 was given a base salary of $11 million, with DL-based incentives pushing the value to $15 million: a similar setup could likely be negotiated for 2015 which would satisfy both parties, with Ortiz securing that guaranteed year and salary, and the Red Sox not committing to a significant raise to keep their DH around and happy.

You can't predict with any certainty what Ortiz is going to do in 2014, never mind 2015 -- there are too many variables and not enough historical comps for players at this level of performance at this age, making him something of a power-hitting snowflake -- but there are some obvious reasons for why he's a risk worth taking. He was one of the top bats in the game in 2013, with his 160 OPS+ coming in behind only Miguel Cabrera, Mike Trout, and Chris Davis: Just as a refresher, that's the 2013 AL MVP, the runner-up, and the third-place recipient. As productive as Boston's World Series-winning lineup was last season, no one else on the  team even came close to that, with Mike Napoli's 129 mark the next-best among qualified players. Even if Ortiz slips a bit and is closer to his 2008 through 2010 form, when he batted .257/.356/.498 with a 120 OPS+, he's still going to easily be worth the money paid to him: he doesn't have to be best-case-scenario Ortiz for this to make sense, meaning there is already some built-in room for decline in his deal.

Plus, the Red Sox are already setup to be relying on veterans to a degree still in 2015. Shane Victorino and Napoli are in the last years of their contracts that season, as is Lackey. The recently signed Edward Mujica's two-year pact will end after that season as well, and it will finally be time to make a decision on Clay Buchholz's option. Essentially, 2015 is the last season before the kids stop being that and become the core of the "next great Red Sox team," as Cherington is fond of saying. Ortiz should be a part of that.

If he falls apart entirely in 2014, then 2015 would be a problem, but given just how amazing he was, that seems more like digging for any reason to not extend him than it does a legitimate concern. It's just one year more, at a time the Red Sox will need his bat and, most importantly, can afford it. Given that, it wouldn't be surprising to see the Red Sox and Big Papi get something done in the coming months, taking care of this before it ever becomes a problem.

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