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Ortiz in position to field offers as a first baseman?

By Nick Cafardo
Globe Staff / October 30, 2011

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David Ortiz has told friends that he’d like a three-year deal from the Red Sox to be their designated hitter.

The chances of the Sox committing to a 36-year-old player for that long appear slim, though a compromise of two years isn’t out of the realm of possibility.

But we must raise the question: Will Ortiz be limited to the American League? Will his pool be Boston, Toronto, maybe Tampa Bay, Baltimore, and the Angels, or could National League teams actually consider him as an everyday first baseman?

We asked several general managers and talent evaluators in both leagues. There were some who dismissed the first base option as blasphemy, but a good amount of others didn’t feel the idea was that far-fetched. “The more you hit, the better the defense looks,’’ said an NL general manager.

Ortiz has already begun his offseason conditioning and could remain fit enough to be a top hitter.

While any evaluator would identify DH as Ortiz’s best position, Yankees GM Brian Cashman pointed out, “‘I never thought Lance Berkman would play the outfield again.’’

The Cardinals thought outside the box on Berkman and in the process obtained, as a free agent, the NL Comeback Player of the Year - a guy who seemed destined to be a DH or part-time first baseman.

Who would have thought Berkman could step into right field and not embarrass himself this late in his career?

“In 2010, Lance came to me and he wanted to play outfield full-time,’’ said Astros manager Brad Mills. “At the time, I felt uncomfortable with it because he hadn’t played it for so long, but I have to tip my cap to him because he worked so hard to be able to pull it off and he did.’’

Ortiz has never been horrible at first base, and, yes, there would be concern about him breaking down if he played too often in the field. But is he capable of doing it?

“He’s athletic enough to be able to pull it off,’’ said Mills. “He would have to completely devote himself to taking a lot of ground balls and really working hard at it. Could he do it? Absolutely. If there was the commitment on his part, sure he could.’’

Ortiz always shrugged it off in the past, but he did say this past season that if that’s what he had to do, he would surely do it. He felt that if he had to play the field every day, his body would adapt to it.

Yet there are those who feel strongly that it wouldn’t work.

“No way,’’ said an AL evaluator.

“He just wouldn’t be able to give you any range,’’ said an NL assistant GM.

“I’m not sure Papi could do it at this point,’’ said future Hall of Famer Frank Thomas. “In the National League, there’s a lot of bunt plays, a lot of running around. I’m not sure he’d hold up.

“He could do it some of the time, but full-time? I would have my doubts.’’

But there also were some who kept an open mind.

“I think more and more teams will look into it,’’ said an NL East GM. “To have that kind of bat in the middle of an NL lineup at relatively short years and money for that type of production might be worth the deficiency you’d have at first base.

“You could always replace him in the late innings. I think he can handle the position in terms of balls hit at him. It’s just the range would be limited. Teams have those types of players even now.’’

An NL West GM said, “It’s possible, but playing away from Fenway and his age would be a factor.’’

Two names to keep in mind: Ryan Howard and Carlos Lee. Howard is not the greatest defensive first baseman, but being average or below average at that position is fine as long as you hit 30 homers, knock in 100 runs, and have an OPS north of 900.

Lee actually plays both left field and first base, and from what we’re told, he does very little to improve his defense. So Ortiz can’t play first?

“You’d have to know he could make the routine play, catch the ball, and you’d have to be able to live with limited range and that most of the time he’s not going to save your infielders from errors on bad throws,’’ said an AL team president.

“If you can live with it and you feel the upside with his power far surpasses the defensive deficiencies, then you take the gamble. And there’s always the possibility that the more comfortable he gets out there, the better he’ll be.’’

Mills concurred: “The more he worked at it, the better his range would get.’’


Make World Series a business venue again

Major League Baseball needs to get back to requiring baseball personnel to be present at the World Series. More than a decade ago, owners, general managers, managers, and some players attended baseball’s biggest event. Since their presence has not been required, baseball has suffered greatly from a lack of strong news emanating from the World Series.

Now, so many GMs immerse themselves in getting ready for the offseason and wait for the official meetings to start their business. But in the old days, they would start their business at the World Series, which would create news and interest with their teams. Many GMs will tell you they watch little if any of the World Series games now.

Baseball needs to create a reason for such personnel to be on hand. This, after all, is the game’s crowning event, a place where the biggest names in baseball should gather.

It’s where GMs used to begin their trade discussions, where they would have their first meeting with prominent agents on free agents. It was the tipoff to the postseason.

Their presence created more news and thus more interest. It required media outlets to be present, and not only for the games, but in case their team was beginning preliminary talks on a key player or key trade.

We are in a sophisticated electronic age now in which most communicating is done through texting or e-mail - the way most executives and owners prefer. But over a seven-to-10-day period, can’t there be human contact? Can’t the World Series be a place where GMs get together to watch the games, go out to dinner, and start informal talks on possible deals?

It’s understandable that for some GMs and managers and owners, watching may be painful. Some have players they gave up on now excelling on the biggest stage. Mike Napoli was discarded by the Angels and had a great World Series for Texas. Adrian Beltre left the Red Sox and also played a key role.

Let’s get back to a time when baseball celebrated itself at the World Series.


Sox job would have to be attractive to Mills

The Red Sox tried hard to get John Farrell early in the managerial hiring process, but in the end they realized that compensation would be too high a hurdle with a division rival. The Blue Jays actually changed their policy in the last few days so that employees cannot leave for lateral jobs.

So where does the search turn?

If new Sox general manager Ben Cherington wants someone who is familiar with the team and had a firm hand with the players when he was here, will Houston manager Brad Mills be considered?

Mills has been part of a painful rebuilding the last two seasons in Houston, where an ownership change is also about to take place.

“If it’s requested, we’ll deal with it as an organization,’’ said Astros president Tal Smith. “Brad is a terrific manager. We absolutely love the job he’s done for us.’’

But as of late last week, there had been no contact.

“Haven’t heard anything like that,’’ Mills said. “My focus is here in Houston and getting our team ready to compete in the 2012 season.

Mills is Terry Francona’s best friend, but Farrell was close to Francona as well. Mills was Francona’s enforcer when he was bench coach, and you didn’t see any chicanery on the team when Mills was around.

Mills has had two seasons as a major league manager in a very tough situation. He has seen his team lose veterans Roy Oswalt, Lance Berkman, and Hunter Pence. What he left in Boston is far different from he what he inherited in Houston.

We certainly believe Mills when he says how much he loves being Astros manager. Any managerial job is coveted, because they’re so hard to get.

But returning to Boston, where he’s totally familiar with the culture, the players, most of the front office, the owners, being a part of championship teams? Why wouldn’t that be attractive?

The Sox have been looking at current managers. Eric Wedge in Seattle, Bud Black in San Diego, and Bruce Bochy in San Francisco are all good names. But after Farrell, nobody has more familiarity with the Red Sox Way than Mills.


Apropos of nothing

1. “Big Hurt Beer,’’ Frank Thomas’s new business venture, has hit the Chicago market and goes national soon. Red Sox pitchers may invest; 2. Wouldn’t shock me if Tony La Russa retired after 33 years, nor would it shock me if Bobby Cox returned; 3. Doesn’t sound like the Cubs have anything resembling Carmine in their front office. Her sister is on her way; 4. Have a lot of admiration for La Russa sticking up for scouts and traditional baseball ways; 5. Only problem with John Lackey having Tommy John surgery is that now the Sox can’t trade him.

Updates on nine

1. Juan Carlos Linares, OF, Red Sox - Don’t count the 27-year-old Cuban-born righthanded hitter out of the right-field mix next season. Linares can really hit - as he showed in spring training - but he tore ankle ligaments in early May and missed the season. He has been working out in Fort Myers, where he bought a home. The Sox hope for, at the latest, a midseason arrival in Boston.

2. Prince Fielder, 1B, free agent - It’s anyone’s guess where he will end up, but one thing is for sure: The Brewers are going to make their best pitch before he hits free agency. Fielder may be a target of the Marlins, even though they have Gabby Sanchez. The Marlins are increasing their payroll and looking for another big name to go along with Hanley Ramirez, Mike Stanton, and Ozzie Guillen as they open their new stadium in April.

3. David Wright, 3B, Mets - You wonder if Wright might be a target for Theo Epstein, who would be looking for a third baseman if he lets Aramis Ramirez walk. As a righthanded hitter, Wright has been hurt by Citi Field. Whether Epstein would have enough inventory to send to the Mets is another issue. The Mets could have Seattle, the Angels, Oakland, and possibly Detroit as trade partners.

4. Carlos Beltran, OF, free agent - The Red Sox were very interested in Beltran, both last winter (when they opted for Carl Crawford instead) and at the trading deadline. He remains a possible short-term option for them in right field.

5. Javier Lopez, LHP, free agent - An interesting free agent who could do well in the open market, as his stock as a lefty specialist has risen greatly the past couple of seasons. He held lefties to a .163 average last season, though he didn’t have a very good August before rebounding in September. Would the Red Sox try to reacquire him?

6. Jose Reyes, SS, free agent - Who will give him $20 million a year? One team that should is the Giants, who need offense desperately. Whether they can extend their budget to do so remains to be seen. Jimmy Rollins also remains a possibility for them if he doesn’t get his five-year asking price from the Phillies. The Red Sox always like to make a big offseason splash, but to go after a shortstop, they would have to be convinced that Jose Iglesias isn’t ready for prime time.

7. Doug Melvin, GM, Brewers - He is about to begin negotiating a new deal with owner Mark Attanasio. It will be interesting to see whether Melvin gets an enhanced title of “president of baseball operations’’ after the job he did rebuilding the team. Melvin has the unenviable task of trying to get Fielder re-signed. If he can’t, he’ll have a lot of production to replace at first base.

8. C.J. Wilson, LHP, free agent - The Rangers have the resources to re-sign Wilson, but do they want to? There seems to be mixed signals. Wilson will get a big contract, but the Rangers may feel it wouldn’t be money well-spent. A few baseball people have warned that while Wilson can be an effective pitcher, a major outlay for him may not yield a good return. The Nationals, Royals, Yankees, and possibly the Red Sox, appear to be interested.

9. Larry Lucchino, CEO, Red Sox - He will be on full damage control over the next few weeks, spending significant time on radio defending all things Red Sox. The laundry list will include: 1. over-the-top support for Crawford; 2. staunch defense of John Henry and Tom Werner (which is what a good CEO should do); 3. staying on message that the negative news that came out on the team was overblown; 4. “look ahead’’ support for the pitchers who engaged in the juvenile behavior; 5. the new manager bringing a new beginning to the Red Sox.

Short hops

From the Bill Chuck files: “Fukuoka SoftBank Hawks pitcher D.J. Houlton had a 2011 record of 19-6 with a 2.19 ERA. Houlton last pitched in the majors with the 2007 Dodgers, going 0-2 in 18 relief appearances.’’ Also, “At shortstop, maybe age doesn’t matter. Baseball’s two youngest shortstops - 21-year-old Starlin Castro and 22-year-old Elvis Andrus - went 371 for 1,261 for a .294 average. The two oldest - 37-year-old Derek Jeter and 35-year-old Marco Scutaro - were 280 for 941 for a .297 average.’’ . . . Come on, Red Sox, take a shot at Joe Maddon. The worst Tampa Bay can say is no . . . Dan Duquette and Omar Minaya interviewed for the Angels’ general manager position that went to Jerry DiPoto . . . A National League scout evaluating some of Boston’s prospects in the Arizona Fall League said, “Will Middlebrooks has a chance to be a good major league player. Reminds you some of a poor man’s Ryan Zimmerman. He grows on you the more you see him.’’ . . . The Red Sox might be wise to pick off minor league righty Chris Carpenter as part of the compensation from the Cubs. There are nice things being said about his work in the Arizona league . . . Happy birthday to Andy Dominique (36), Marco Scutaro (36), Mark Portugal (49), Dave Valle (51), and Tom Poquette (60).

Nick Cafardo can be reached at Follow him on Twitter @nickcafardo.

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