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Let's discount the notion David Ortiz took less money for 'peace of mind'

Posted by Eric Wilbur, Boston.com Staff  March 24, 2014 10:19 AM

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Hometown discount?

Is that what we’re calling $16 million these days?

David Ortiz’s annual soap opera revolving around his contract finally was resolved for 2014, as the Red Sox tacked another year onto the designated hitter’s deal that will pay him $16 million in 2015, and comes with a pair of club vesting options for ’16 and ’17, perhaps with the intent that the team wouldn’t have to deal with this nonsense for at least a couple more years.

“Ortiz could have insisted on the $20 million annual compensation he felt he warranted,” the Globe’s Nick Cafardo wrote, “but instead settled again for a hometown discount for the peace of mind that he’s where he wants to be for the remainder of his career.”

That’s some peace of mind.

While Miguel Cabrera (due to make $22 million in 2014) was the only offensive member of the $20 million club to surpass Ortiz in production last season (.309, 30 home runs, 103 RBI, .959 OPS), at 38 he’ll be the highest paid DH in Major League Baseball this season, only a half-million more than the final year of Adam Dunn’s deal with the Chicago White Sox. And he’s now one of only three designated hitters on the books for next season. The Royals’ Billy Butler, who will make $8 million this season, has a $12.5 million team option for 2015. Adam Lind has a $7.5 million team option in Toronto, and the Indians’ Carlos Santana will make around $6 million.

Butler will be 29 in 2015, Lind 31, and Santana 29. Ortiz will be 39.

You want any of those names as the centerpiece of the Red Sox lineup over the incumbent DH? Probably just as much as you’d prefer Dunn and his .219 batting average representing your biggest threat.

Nobody is arguing that a productive Ortiz isn’t a boon for the Red Sox. But can we please not purport the ridiculous notion that Ortiz took a “hometown discount"?

If Ortiz hit the open market next offseason, the odds of him landing $16 million from any team other than the Red Sox was borderline preposterous. Ortiz means more to the Red Sox than he does anyone else, and vice versa. He’s already the highest-paid DH in baseball history, and despite those who cry poor on his behalf, he has banked more than $112 million during his Hall of Fame-worthy career.

Nobody was giving him $20 million. Even in baseball’s loopy payroll structure, 39-year-old designated hitters simply don’t command that kind of a payday.

“With this agreement, we have near certainty that David Ortiz will finish his career in a Red Sox uniform, which is something we have all wanted and that we are all proud of,” team owner John Henry said. “It is difficult to describe David’s contributions to our city both on the field and off the field, and we are so proud to have this ambassador of our game with us as he continues on this road to Cooperstown.”

All true. But you can also take the team options for ’16 and ’17 as a clear sign that the team is sick and tired of having to endure Ortiz’s annual Fort Myers whine festival. Once again, the 38-year-old held a gun to the Red Sox’ heads, with nowhere for them to run. He’s rebounded nicely from the mysterious drop-off seasons he endured at the end of last decade, when there was serious talk of the Red Sox releasing the Boston sports legend.

What happened? Magic dust?

Ortiz’s past with steroids is indeed a tricky one, but it’s one that he’s managed to escape without the least bit of repercussion. The “investigation” he promised he’d undergo in 2009, when reports surfaced that his name was among those on the infamous 2003 positive list. However, the Major League Baseball Players Association treats the “list” about as reputable as a Westboro Church confessional. Ortiz hasn’t publicly failed a drug test that we know of since, so doesn’t he get the benefit of the doubt, even as he’s hitting an otherworldly .688 and leading Boston to its third World Series in a decade?

He does here. But that doesn’t mean the questions have been answered. Not in the least.

The only ones that matter now are whether or not Ortiz can remain a productive hitter at 38, and spring training – Ortiz has only three hits in 35 at-bats – isn’t exactly providing a warm glow of comfort in that regard. The last time he went through spring games, in 2012, Ortiz had 13 hits in 57 at-bats, but at least he watched the ball sail over the fence three times. This year, he has only one spring homer to go along with two RBIs.

On the worry scale, it probably warrants about a 1 -- 1.5 if you’re a pessimist. Ortiz’s assurances that he’ll find his swing once the season begins shouldn’t even have to be conveyed. But that’s how bad Ortiz has been this spring. It sparked rumblings of concern among some. The Red Sox will only go as far as Ortiz can take them, age and injury be damned.

Even if Ortiz hadn’t begun spring training by reciting his “All About Me” mantra, he would have gotten his money, and unless his current funk carried well into the summer months, he would have gotten it from Boston after the season. Why the concern otherwise?

Ortiz has peace of mind. The Red Sox have added angst now that they could be pouring another $16 million into a guy who will be 39 next season. When indeed does the spell wear off?

The Red Sox got him at a “discount.” Again. When will Ortiz ever get the respect he deserves?

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About the Author

Eric Wilbur is a Boston.com sports columnist who is still in awe of what Dana Kiecker pulled off that one time in Toronto. He lives in the Boston area with his wife and three children. Comments and suggestions for the best Buffalo wing spots are encouraged.

Contact Eric Wilbur by e-mail or follow him on Twitter.


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