Contingency Planning for an Ortiz on the Ropes

Boston Red Sox David Ortiz at Yankee Stadium in New York
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...
Boston Red Sox David Ortiz at Yankee Stadium in New York

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.

Categories: Boston Red Sox David Ortiz Rick Ankiel Victor Martinez

16 Responses to “Contingency Planning for an Ortiz on the Ropes” Subscribe

  1. Matt January 25, 2010 at 5:40 PM #

    Don't forget, Mike Lowell is still on the team. If Ortiz shows signs of a slow start during spring training, it would make sense to keep Lowell around as insurance. The Sox will have to eat some portion, if not all, of either players salary in a trade or if they were to release either one, so keeping them both around and seeing which player wins out might not be a bad decision.

  2. GreggB January 25, 2010 at 1:52 PM #

    If they hold on to Lowell, it would make sense to platoon Ortiz/Lowell to start the season. If one of them can't produce, they could go with one or the other.

  3. Aaron January 25, 2010 at 2:29 PM #

    According to hittrackeronline Ortiz HR's were trending farther and faster off the bat as the season went along. That's a good sign that April and May might have less important than the rest of his season when projecting Ortiz' 2010. Check out the link for a more detailed look at what I'm talking about.

    http://www.rotosavants.com/2010/01/david-ortiz-ch

    • barroomhero January 26, 2010 at 9:34 AM #

      I saw that yesterday. That article gives me hope.

  4. Mike Ketchen January 25, 2010 at 3:55 PM #

    Check out these numbers, this is part of the reason I think these stories are hog wash.
    .OPSwOBABB/KHR/FB
    Career0.9220.3880.7218.6

    April-May 0.57150.25750.471.6

    June-Oct 0.9163750.385750.6612519.0125

  5. B_isback January 25, 2010 at 5:55 PM #

    Actually Mike, the first obstacle to trading Papi is that he's a 10 and 5 guy (10 years of ML experience / 5 years with the same team). That gives him the right to approve or veto any trade the Sox can put together. So if he doesn't want to bake in the heat of Kansas City, or has issue with being traded to any other team its no deal. That further weakens the Sox already poor leverage in making such a trade.

    If Papi starts out as poorly as last year the Sox will be lucky to get an old pine tar rag for him. Being released would be the most likely scenario. His salary would still count against the luxury tax. And he would probably have cost a number of lossess, unless the rest of the team, already thought to be offensively challenged, was unexpectedly on fire, would the Sox spend prospects and push the luxury tax limit on a gamble to make the playoffs? I don't think so. The success or failure of the 2010 season starts and ends with Big Papi. If he doesn't hit, the Sox don't go anywhere. Hope is he hits, and the Sox make it accross the BRIDGE.

  6. B_isback January 25, 2010 at 10:00 PM #

    I guess with James Patrick Page as my avatar, I can't pass up the opportunity.

    I'm just trying to find the bridge.
    Has anybody seen the bridge?

  7. Gerry January 25, 2010 at 8:04 PM #

    All the signs post to a good season by both Ortiz & Lowell. Even if they struggle, I can't see Theo eating most or all of their $25MM and then paying to replace them. He may be cold, but he is not dumb. He would do better to cobble together a temporary solution. If Mike proves un-tradeable, even during ST, Theo might be wise to combine Mike's & Papi's bats into one, using Mike's to insure big #'s from the DH position, giving Ortiz his best chance to contribute and succeed. Mike crushes lefties. Papi crushes righties. It's that simple.

    This is very expensive Papi insurance, but so what. If they combine for 40/110/110 from the position, it's worth it, and not nearly as expensive as just releasing them. Mike and Papi can also DH when the relievers come in, and Mike can spell Beltre and be ready if AB gets hurt. What a choice: eat $25M and get nothing from it, or spend $25M to create the most potent DH and PH in baseball, and to backup AB for a year. I would buy the insurance and not even think about it any more.

    • B_isback January 26, 2010 at 2:22 AM #

      As far as team production from the DH spot, an effective Lowell / Ortiz combination would be hitting the jackpot. As far as in practicality, I can't see Lowell or Ortiz being all that happy with that set-up. Let's face it, Lowell's already unhappy, though he won't outright vent through the media. DH'ing Lowell against lhp won't really sit to well with Papi either I imagine. Especially if he's having a "somewhat decent" start.

      It's not just a matter of the Sox paying $25M to have a DH platoon. Papi should be treating this season as contract year. For Lowell it is a contract year. For each of them to hope to rebuild their value, they are both surely going to want to play as much as possible. If one of them gets on even a decent roll he'll be barking if he has to sit.

      I don't know if this is realistic: 40/110/110. I'd give that about a 20/80 chance.

      This however is dreamland: what if Ortiz hits 40 long balls, knocks in 120 runs, has an OPS of .961 and ends of the season with a WAR of 3.8.

  8. went9 January 25, 2010 at 8:10 PM #

    Curveball: what if Ortiz hits 40 long balls, knocks in 120 runs, has an OPS of .961 and ends of the season with a WAR of 3.8.
    Do you exercise his "2011 club option" of $12.5m ?

    • Shane January 25, 2010 at 11:31 PM #

      I could see his option being declined, but then coming to a different $ amount for a year. As this year has shown, it is a tough market for DHes.

  9. evanbrunell January 25, 2010 at 9:18 PM #

    I disagree that V-Mart wouldn't do well at DH. We've been spoiled with Papi all these years, but Victor's bat does play at DH. I do agree that it's not a good idea to replace Ortiz with a catcher inseason. It will be tough to find a "good" catcher, and I wouldn't want to block any potential Mauer acquisition. I don't want the Sox to put all their eggs in the Mauer basket, but shouldn't Boston at least leave V-Mart at catcher and acquire another bat — regardless of position, who can improve the 2010 team (maybe 2011 and on I suppose, in a perfect world) — and put THAT player at DH? If the catching market is poor in July, wait it out. Maybe Mauer happens, maybe not. Maybe the trade market is better. Catcher is a sensitive position and I just don't see a permanent solution at catcher happening in July. I wouldn't be opposed to taking on Chris Snyder should Arizona be willing to eat the salary and trying him out in August and September and evaluate from there — worst case, make him the backup. But any acquisition of catcher in 2010, unless we're talking a legitimate catcher who can produce in the future, should only be temporary.

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