Ben Cherington understood the arguments against signing David Ortiz to a contract extension. The Plainfield-raised and Lebanon High-educated Red Sox general manager knew that, as a 38-year-old designated hitter with a year remaining on his existing contract, Ortiz had very little leverage in seeking a long-term deal.
The Sox agreed to negotiate with Ortiz during spring training anyway, and on Sunday the parties agreed to a deal.
Ortiz signed an extension that will pay him $16 million in 2015, a $1 million raise from his salary this year, according to a source familiar with the agreement. The contract also includes a vesting option for 2016 based on plate appearances and a club option for 2017, by which time Ortiz will be 41.
And so, Big Papi almost certainly will finish his career with the Red Sox — and without the hassle of having to beg for an extension after each season.
“We just felt like if we were going to talk about this now, let’s see if we can find a way to craft something fair to David and virtually guarantees he finishes his career here,” Cherington told ESPN Boston. “That was the goal. That’s what we set out to do, and I’m glad we were able to accomplish that.”
Cherington, Boston manager John Farrell all cited Ortiz’s contributions off the field — in the clubhouse and in the community — as factors in ensuring Ortiz will remain with the Red Sox beyond this season.
“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,” principal owner John Henry said in a statement announcing the extension Sunday night. “We are so proud to have this ambassador of our game with us as he continues on this road to Cooperstown.”
In negotiating the extension, the Red Sox wagered that Ortiz will continue to be a powerful middle-of-the-order force, and save for his 2-for-36 spring training slumber, there isn’t much to indicate otherwise. If anything, he’s as good as ever.
The only link to each of the Sox’ titles in 2004, 2007 and 2013, he batted .309 with 30 homers, 103 RBIs and a .959 OPS last season before a historic World Series in which he went 11-for-16 (.688).
History isn’t typically kind to sluggers in their late 30s. Only 13 players have hit at least 25 homers in their age-38 season, and only six had an OPS of .900 or better. Barry Bonds, Hank Aaron, Willie Stargell, Ted Williams and Jim Thome are the only players to hit at least 25 homers with an OPS greater than .900 at age 39.
But Ortiz seems to be following the trajectories of Stargell and Frank Thomas, big-bodied sluggers who maintained their production late in their careers. Thomas hit 39 homers with a .926 OPS at age 38, and 26 homers with an .857 OPS at 39. Stargell hit 28 homers with a .949 OPS at age 38, then 32 homers with a .904 OPS and an NL MVP award at 39.
If Ortiz takes that path, committing to him through 2015 will be no gamble at all.
“We don’t have any reason to believe that’s not going to continue for some period of time,” Cherington said, according to ESPN Boston. “David takes terrific care of himself. He cares, he’s got team goals, he’s got personal goals ... There are a lot of reasons for him to continue playing, and we know when he’s playing he wants to be good. There’s a lot of pride.”
With 373 of his 431 career home runs having come in a Sox uniform, Ortiz ranks fifth on the franchise’s all-time list. He needs just 10 to pass Dwight Evans and Jim Rice, which would leave him behind only Williams and Carl Yastrzemski in Boston history.
It had been nearly four months since Ortiz expressed his desire to extend the two-year, $26 million deal that he signed before last season, at which point he was coming off a serious Achilles injury that lingered through spring training. Based on days spent on the active roster last year, he reached enough incentives to boost his 2014 salary from $13 million to $15 million, tying him with first baseman Mike Napoli as the Sox’ highest-paid players.
“I guess you guys get tired of me talking about contract all the time,” Ortiz told MLB.com on Monday. “At least I’m going to have some time off answering questions and dealing with my contract situation. I’m all about the business of just focusing on baseball. This is a big part of it.”
Momentum had been building toward a deal. After camp began last month, Henry said, “He wants to finish his career here, and we should try to make that happen.”
Ortiz’s agent, Fern Cuza, made several visits to Fort Myers over the past six weeks, and on Friday, a source said enough progress had been made that the deal could get done before the end of the weekend.
Armed with his extra year, Ortiz will be free of distraction as he turns his attention to the regular season, which he insists can’t start soon enough. He hasn’t gotten a hit since a solo homer March 10. He went 0-for-3 with a pair of strikeouts against the Rays on Sunday and grounded into a double play on the only pitch he saw before rain shortened Monday’s game against the Orioles to two innings.
The common denominator in Ortiz’s spring struggles, he said: boredom.
“Just intensity, motivation — I don’t know,” Ortiz said on Sunday. “I just go through spring training and whatever. I know what I need to do to be ready for the season. Spring training is nothing that worries me about anything.”
Indeed, neither Ortiz nor the Red Sox seem the least bit concerned that his slump might linger into the season, which opens one week from yesterday in Baltimore. After all, he didn’t get any at-bats last spring because of the Achilles injury and still had one of the best seasons of his career.
Material from the Boston Herald composes the majority of this report.