Ortiz coming back

Sox exercise one-year option worth $12.5m

David Ortiz can expect to see fewer at-bats against lefthanded pitchers in 2011. David Ortiz can expect to see fewer at-bats against lefthanded pitchers in 2011. (Matthew J. Lee/ Globe Staff)
By Peter Abraham
Globe Staff / November 5, 2010

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The Red Sox would have favored giving David Ortiz a contract more in line with what designated hitters in their mid-30s are receiving.

Ortiz would have preferred to return to the team with a contract of at least two years.

In the end, the compromise was right in front of them.

The Sox yesterday exercised their one-year, $12.5 million option on Ortiz, electing to trade more money for less of a commitment. The decision brings the ever-popular Big Papi back for a ninth season.

Ortiz, who did not respond to messages seeking comment, has said on several occasions that he would not be comfortable with a one-year contract. But general manager Theo Epstein said the slugger was happy with the resolution.

“I think in the end he realized that we weren’t in a position to give him what he was looking for with a multiyear arrangement, and this was an outcome that was acceptable to both sides,’’ said Epstein. “I don’t think we were that interested in picking up an option if it was going to be seen as burdensome to the player or seen as unfair to the player.’’

Epstein spoke personally to Ortiz to gauge his feelings.

“He told me directly that he was cool with it,’’ the GM said.

Epstein mentioned three times during a 13-minute conference call that retaining Ortiz was important to ownership, a hint that he may have been willing to take a harder line than others in the front office.

On Wednesday, the American League champion Rangers declined a $9 million option on Vladimir Guerrero, a DH with statistics similar to Ortiz’s. The market is rife with that type of player, including former Sox teammates Manny Ramirez and Johnny Damon.

The Sox will pay Ortiz what could turn out to be twice as much as any other DH in the game makes. But Ortiz is not just another slugger for hire, given his place in team history and popularity.

“Given the fact that it’s a one-year deal, the fact that it was built into the contract to begin with, and the good feeling about what David has done in the past and meant to this franchise and what he currently means to the franchise and to the ownership group, this really made sense,’’ Epstein said.

The Sox apparently made it clear to Ortiz that they reserved the right to sit him down against lefthanded pitchers, something Ortiz complained about last season and led to discord with manager Terry Francona.

Ortiz hit .270 with 32 home runs and 102 RBIs last season and had a .370 on-base percentage. But he hit .222 against lefthanders with two home runs.

“That’s also something we wanted to make sure everybody’s on the same page about as we head into next year,’’ said Epstein, “that there’s comfort in the contract, comfort with the role, comfort with the manager.

“Certainly Tito and David are absolutely on the same page, on great terms, and it shouldn’t be an issue going into next year.’’

Ortiz, who turns 35 this month, made the All-Star team for the sixth time last season. After a torturous April (.143 with one home run), he again became an elite hitter. He tied for fifth in the league in home runs, was eighth in OPS (.899), and averaged one home run every 16.2 at-bats, the fifth-best rate in the league.

“This is not an easy market to recover in after a difficult start, especially a player of David’s stature with all the attention that his performance gets on a daily basis,’’ Epstein said. “The fact that he was able to dig himself out of really difficult holes [in 2009 and ’10] and go on to put up impressive seasons, that was encouraging.’’

The sides still could come to terms on a multiyear deal. But those chances are remote.

“We couldn’t find anything that made as much sense as the one-year commitment,’’ said Epstein. “At this point, the feeling is that we explored it; it didn’t work out.’’

The Sox also picked up the option on righthanded reliever Scott Atchison, which was set for only $40,000 over the major league minimum (base salary of $400,000).

Atchison, 34, was effective in 43 appearances after spending the two previous seasons in Japan. He had a 4.50 earned run average and allowed only 7 of 32 inherited runners to score, the best percentage among Sox relievers.

As expected, the Sox declined the options on utilityman Bill Hall and infielder Felipe Lopez. They join Adrian Beltre, Victor Martinez, and Jason Varitek as free agents.

The Sox have exclusivity to negotiate with their free agents through 12:01 a.m. Sunday. But do not expect any deals to be made.

“You never know, and we’re continuing to have dialogue with the representatives for our free agents,’’ Epstein said. “But realistically you don’t see too many deals done one or two days away from free agency beginning in earnest.’’

Epstein reiterated that he would prefer to keep “some or all’’ of those players. That includes Hall, who hit 18 homers last season. The 30-year-old could find a starting job elsewhere, however.

“If later in the offseason, he’s in a position to consider a super utility role, and based on the moves we’ve made with our everyday players, that type of player makes sense on our roster, I’m sure we’ll be talking,’’ Epstein said.

The Sox acquired infielder Brent Dlugach from the Tigers for a player to be named or cash. He was added to the 40-man roster.

Dlugach spent last season with Triple A Toledo, hitting .258 with 31 extra-base hits and 41 RBIs. The 27-year-old former sixth-round pick played five games for the Tigers in 2009.

Epstein described Dlugach as an above-average defensive shortstop who could give the organization depth.

Peter Abraham can be reached at Follow him on Twitter @peteabe.

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