As Buster Olney stated in a recent piece, the Red Sox may look to replace David Ortiz if he struggles again in the first half like he did last year.
Certainly, the struggles of Big Papi have a lot to say about the success of the team. Like we profiled earlier, David Ortiz is undeniably on the downswing of his career. In what should be the last year of his contract, Ortiz will likely have difficulty living up to his $12.5 million price tag.
The plan outlined by Olney involves a specific scenario under which Ortiz repeats his 2009 first-half struggles, leading to a trade of Ortiz, acquiring a catcher and moving Victor Martinez to DH.
Quite the series of moves.
The first obstacle to any such move involves Ortiz underperforming to such a degree that he repeats his putrid April and May, in which he hit just one home run in 178 at-bats on his way to a .185/.289/.286 overall line. Luckily for the Sox, he didn’t finish that way – mostly due to a blistering June where he hit 7 home runs in 75 at-bats with a .320/.409/.653 line.
Could Ortiz repeat the awful production? Certainly. Though it’s more likely that he maintains the adjustments he made to post a decent 2nd half of .258/.350/.516.
Still, with the question posed, it must be answered. Should Ortiz struggle again, does he deserve to hit the pine? Or, is it a prudent move to switch Victor Martinez out of the catcher’s role to DH?
Quite simply – or, maybe, quite complicated – is the added set of circumstances that would accompany this scenario.
First, with the swollen payroll the Sox are operating under – and, especially considering their urge to remain under the luxury tax limit – it would be unlikely that the Sox would be willing to eat a large portion of Ortiz’s salary.
Though the move has become quite routine over the past couple seasons – Julio Lugo being the prime example – eating nearly $12 million to send out a potentially average designated hitter out the door just isn’t feasible. Especially given the fact that no other team would pay any significant portion of his contract should he be struggling so mightily, the Sox would have to be prepared to eat his entire contract. Not the most appetizing meal.
In addition, the Sox would need to find a new starting caliber catcher that can replace the production of Victor Martinez at catcher. Though Martinez would be a definite upgrade at DH under this scenario, the cost to acquire a catcher to rival Martinez’s abilities would be unnecessarily costly – in both prospects and salary.
In all likelihood, such a trade would not go one-for-one as a failing Ortiz would have trouble netting any return player in such a deal – let alone a quality catcher. Likewise, to acquire said catcher, the team would have to dole out significant prospects to attain such a player. Given that they would not be able to acquire a player with fewer than 5 years of major league service time, they will also add to the team’s bottom line – further putting pressure on the luxury tax.
All told, it seems unlikely that the Sox would be able to maneuver trading Ortiz, acquiring a quality catcher, and moving V-Mart to DH. The finances and the cost for prospects don’t add up. This would leave the Sox with two options – to either keep Ortiz or to acquire a retread bat to supplant Ortiz as DH.
Keeping Ortiz is certainly a viable option in that he has proven that he can make adjustments at the plate to declining physical skills and health. The change in his approach was seen in the correction of his overall line after May. Still, any further decline in bat speed could result in another prolonged slump – one that the team cannot afford next season.
Another, more sensible option would be to acquire a retread-type bat who is having a rebound year or to platoon Jeremy Hermida.
One such option could be to trade for an inexpensive outfield bat from a non-contender to take the place of the DH. One that comes to mind who fits this mold is Rick Ankiel. Signed to a 1-year $3+ million deal ( with escalators to take the total overall to about $6 million) would be a perfect mid-season trade candidate.
The Royals, well aware that their season has little, if any, chance of a post-season appearance would be more than happy to part with Ankiel for a couple non-elite prospects. A quality bat coming over to Boston, the move would also cost considerably less in the overall value of prospects traded. In addition, it would allow Victor Martinez to stay behind the plate, where his bat is elite – as opposed to simply average as a designated hitter.
A platoon of Jeremy Hermida and Bill Hall could work as well. Hermida can be expected to succeed on the left-handed side of the platoon – providing an overall production line similar in value to David Ortiz’s 2009 aggregate line. Should Bill Hall remember how to hit lefties, it could be a very valuable arrangement.
In the end, the situation is a bit of a toss-up, as the Boston faithful can reasonably expect Ortiz to continue to perform at some kind of acceptable level. Still, there’s no reason not to prepare for what may lie in store for the team – just don’t encourage moving Victor over to DH. Sure, he’s a great hitter, but his bat is really only an asset when he plays catcher.
The in-house option to replace him would be Varitek, but that would be a hefty upset to ever occur given how poorly Varitek has played the last few seasons. He’s the backup now and won’t be confused with a starter anytime soon.
As always, the Boston Red Sox will need an excellent offensive performance out of David Ortiz should it expect to be a true contender. Given his 2009 season, we’re all wondering whatever happened to the David Ortiz who slugged 54 homers back in ’06. Such is the fickle, cyclical nature of professional athletics. Hopefully Big Papi has one more peak year left in him, instead of a deep valley.