Despite three of the last four years being miserable much more often than they were exciting, this is a very fun time to be a Red Sox fan. I would like to say this is objectively true but, of course, it’s not. I spend too much time focusing on this team and all of the minutia to have a truly objective view of the team. I’m sure people from the outside would look at the recent history of the franchise and say they would prefer not to be a Red Sox fan. Maybe they’d be right, but I stand by what I said. It’s a fun time to be a Red Sox fan.
With players like Mookie Betts, Xander Bogaerts, Eduardo Rodriguez and Blake Swihart just getting their careers started, we’ve already begun to see the future. There’s another wave coming, too, with Yoan Moncada, Rafael Devers, Anderson Espinoza and Andrew Benintendi, among others. Obviously, not all of those guys will succeed, and some of them will be traded before they’re given the chance. But if they are traded, especially if it happens this winter while their stock is relatively high, they’ll still be contributing to the possible future successes of this franchise. All of this is to say that we’re seeing the start of a new, exciting era in Boston baseball, and you, as a fan, have every right to be as excited about it as you are.
However, after saying all that, the opposite is true as well. The start of a new era inevitably means the end of an old era, and in this case, the old era was a hell of a run. Admittedly, this is not something that anyone wants to think about, but unfortunately it needs to be brought up. It’s part of being a sports fan. Although nothing official has been said, there is a very good chance that we are about to watch David Ortiz’s last season as a major-league baseball player. The Red Sox need to try to build a winner every year, but with 2016 likely being a legend’s final go-around, they now need to build a winner.
As I said, Ortiz hasn’t explicitly stated that this upcoming season will be his last, but the signs are pointing that way. As the year went on, the star sounded more and more unsure about his future. After his vesting option kicked in for 2016, he was adamant about earning his paycheck for this upcoming season, but that could change next year. He does have another vesting option for 2017, but it’s at $10 million instead of $16 million, which is a significant step down. Money probably isn’t as important to Ortiz anymore, but the status that came with the $16 million always seemed important to him, and it’s tough to see him caring so much about the $10 million. Add that to the fact that 2017 would be his age-41 season, and it’s hard to see him playing beyond the upcoming season.
Obviously, it would be nice for the Red Sox to send Ortiz out on top due to his legacy and importance to the franchise, but it goes even beyond just that. Even with the World Series in 2013, Boston has wasted one of the most incredible runs in recent memory. It’s not just that Ortiz has been so great, but it’s the fact that he’s done this in his late 30’s. Over the last five seasons, starting with his age-35 season, Ortiz has never had an OPS+ lower than 140, and has an overall .292/.382/.556 batting line and a 152 OPS+. Of the 335 players with at least 1000 plate appearances in that time, only six have been better hitters than Ortiz. The future Hall of Famer has been a better hitter than Giancarlo Stanton, Paul Goldschmidt, Bryce Harper and Buster Posey, among many others. Furthermore, just 86 players have posted an OPS+ of at least 140 while qualifying for the batting title in a season when they were at least 35 years old since the league integrated in 1947. Ortiz was four of those seasons.
Despite that kind of historic run — a run that puts him in company with guys like Barry Bonds and Ted Williams — Boston only made the playoffs once. Obviously one player doesn’t have the kind of impact in baseball as it does in other sports, but it’s still hard to waste this kind of performance. Luckily, they have a chance to make up for it in 2016.
With the way the team is positioned right now, Dave Dombrowski and the entire front office is preparing to build a winner regardless. They don’t exactly need any extra motivation. However, extra motivation never hurt anyone, and the impending retirement of one of the premiere figures in the history of one of the premiere franchises certainly qualifies as such. Maybe they’ll come to a point where they have to decide to give a couple extra million dollars to a veteran, or they’ll need to decide whether or not to throw in that extra sweetener to the trade. In all of those situations, they should take the win-now mode. David Ortiz has meant everything to this organization, and if anyone deserves to go out on top, it’s him. The team owes it to him to do everything in their power to make it happen.