As much as it is horror-inducing to imagine, there was apparently a chance that David Ortiz could have been traded by the Boston Red Sox during the 2003 season. We can all breathe easy knowing that this never happened and 2004, 2007 and 2013 did, as well as all the non-World Series winning years of glory that Ortiz brought Boston.
But what if that trade had occurred? Well then we’d be in the darkest timeline or, as it will forever be known, the Shea Hillenbrand timeline.
After the first two months of the 2003 season, Ortiz was being very un-Ortizian, or at least un-Ortizian compared to what the Red Sox would come to expect from him over the next 13 seasons. He had an OPS of just .797 with only two home runs and 13 RBI. During those first 60 days or so of the season, Ortiz played in only 31 games, making 117 plate appearances. Meanwhile, Hillenbrand played in 49 games and got 200 plate appearances, while slashing .303/335/.443. Although they did not play the same position exactly, one player needed to go as Bill Mueller and Kevin Millar also needed starting roles. Despite Hillenbrand’s inferior OPS (.778), the Red Sox’s front office, headed by Theo Epstein’s evil twin Keith Epstein, decides to trade away Ortiz and build the team around Hillenbrand.
Since he could play first base well enough and because the Arizona Diamondbacks needed some more pop in the middle of their lineup, Ortiz is shipped to Arizona and the Red Sox get reliever Byung-Yung Kim in return. Kim was just a year removed from being All Star and Ortiz was a player the Sox had salvaged from the Twins, so Epstein (Keith) twirled his evil mustache in glee at the deal.
Without Ortiz’s renaissance once he started getting more plate appearances, the Red Sox offense has less punch, although still plenty as Manny Ramirez, Nomar Garciaparra and Trot Nixon all hit at least 28 home runs. Hillenbrand is pretty good at DH, as Bill Mueller wins out at third base, finishing the season batting .280 with 20 home runs and 97 RBI. Meanwhile, in Arizona, Ortiz erupts for 27 home runs in the final four months of the season and helps the Diamondbacks earn a Wild Card bid over the Florida Marlins.
In the playoffs, the Red Sox are dealt heartbreak when Aaron Boone hits a walkoff home run in game seven of the American League Championship Series, but it is only made worse when the Yankees win the World Series because after the Diamondbacks got in over the Marlins, there is no Josh Beckett to slay the Evil Empire.
In the 2004 offseason, Curt Schilling declines a trade to the Red Sox since the Diamondbacks had just made the playoffs and he likes all those dingers Ortiz hits. The 2004 Red Sox are a playoff team once again, as Hillenbrand hits above .300 and smacks 15 home runs, but Ortiz finishes in the top 10 in NL MVP voting for the NL West-winning Diamondbacks. The Red Sox get swept in the ALCS, with Hillenbrand striking out with a runner on base in the bottom of the 12th of game four, allowing Derek Jeter to hit a game-winning solo home run in the 13th.
Without the magic of 2004, it is even easier for Pedro Martinez to leave Boston in search of a ring and the roster continues to bleed talent until Hillenbrand himself becomes a free agent in 2006 and signs with the Angels. Meanwhile, Ortiz wins two titles with the Diamondbacks, Beckett never becomes the ace he was in 2007 and the Red Sox watch as the White Sox and Cubs break title drought curses while they continue wondering why Hillenbrand never won a batting title.
That was hard to experience, even in an imaginary setting. Let’s all be grateful that it was Hillenbrand and not Ortiz who was traded to the Diamondbacks in May of 2003.
The Red Sox and, if I can speak for everyone here at Over the Monster, is with Toronto after Monday’s terrible attack. (Bill Koch; Providence Journal)
Brock Holt has been on quite the tear during the last week or so. (Christopher Smith; MassLive)
Xander Bogaerts is going to be back very soon. (Michael Silverman; Boston Herald)
Plus, the Sox are crushing it with the bases loaded. Alex Speier examines why. (Alex Speier; Boston Globe)
Even though they are on a losing skid right now, the Sox could still win 100 games. (Chad Finn; Boston Globe)