Sox, Ortiz close in on arbitration hearing
FORT MYERS, Fla. - It’s a high-stakes game of chicken at this point for the Red Sox and David Ortiz.
The sides are scheduled to meet in a hotel conference room in St. Petersburg today to present their salary arbitration cases to a three-person panel. The Sox have offered $12.65 million, with Ortiz and agent Fernando Cuza seeking $16.5 million.
Negotiations can continue right up until the hearing starts. But at that point, the panel will listen to arguments and any chance of compromise is lost. Under arbitration rules, they must select one of the two figures. That’s what could lead to a last-second settlement.
The hazards of going to a hearing for the Sox would be significantly overpaying the 36-year-old Ortiz compared with other designated hitters and decreasing their financial flexibility to improve the roster.
For Ortiz, the risk would be getting a modest $150,000 raise following a strong season in which he hit .309 with a .953 OPS.
In most arbitration cases, the sides avoid a hearing and settle around the midpoint. For Ortiz and the Sox, that would be $14.58 million. But sources said the Sox are confident in their case, believing that Ortiz reached too far.
Ortiz’s side can make the point that he remains one of the most prolific hitters in the game and should be paid for that. His OPS was fourth in the American League last season and he is clearly the best DH in the game today.
The Sox can point to players of comparable age and achievement and make a case that $16.5 million is too much.
As free agents, Victor Martinez (Tigers) and Adam Dunn (White Sox) landed deals worth an average of $12.5 million and $14 million, respectively. Ortiz compares with those players statistically but is older and less versatile.
The other concern for the Sox is Ortiz taking offense at listening to the club present what amounts to a case against him. General manager Ben Cherington said last month that he did not believe the hearing would be contentious. But Ortiz long has been sensitive regarding his contract status and losing the case could anger him.
The Sox have not gone to a hearing with a player since 2002, when they could not agree to terms with righthander Rolando Arrojo.
The team, owned by Jean Yawkey Trust at the time, won the case and paid Arrojo $1.9 million. He was seeking $2.8 million.
Five cases have gone to hearings this season with the teams winning three times. But in the largest case, righthander Anibal Sanchez was awarded $8 million from the Marlins, who were offering $6.9 million.
If Ortiz and the Sox do go to a hearing, he will get the largest arbitration award in history regardless of the outcome.