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David Ortiz Contract Analysis: Big Papi, Big Problem?

Ortiz Still Has His Batting Eye - Arguing Balls and Strikes (AP Photo/John Smierciak)

This is a big offseason for Big Papi. After down seasons in 2008 and 2009, David Ortiz began 2010 slow. Not just a slump, a deep slumber that saw him hitting just .149/.240/.358/.598 on May 4th. He did have three home runs to his credit, an improvement over his dismal start in 2009, but it looked like time was finally running out for David Ortiz. No one would have predicted the tear that would ensue. Ortiz caught on fire in a way rarely seen, forcing himself into the All-Star Game, participating – and winning – the Home Run Derby, and on Monday night he collected his 100th RBI of the season. In the last year of his four-year, $52 million extension signed during the 2006 season, Ortiz’s future is in the hands of the Red Sox front office: a $12.5 million option for 2011. There is no buyout. Facing this possibility, Ortiz says he feels uncomfortable.

The Big (Papi) Picture

The vanity of their slugging DH aside, should the Red Sox pick up his option? Ortiz himself is looking for one last contract that would lead him to retirement. When he retires, Ortiz wants to end his career as a Red Sox. While the team certainly is thankful to David Ortiz for his play over the years, given his slow starts the last two seasons, they may see 2011 as that final year Ortiz is thinking about.

Before the season, Fangraphs gathered data from a number of projection systems: Bill James, CHONE, Marcel, and ZIPS and also engaged in a composite fan projection created by working through the predictions made by users of the site.

Batting Line Home Runs
Bill James .264/.369/.519/.888 29
CHONE .258/.355/.479/.834 30
Marcel .264/.363/.493/.856 25
ZIPS .260/.366/.507/.873 29
All Fans .259/.352/.497/.825 28

As of Tuesday, Ortiz is batting .268/.366/.531/.897 and has blasted 31 home runs. This is certainly a decline from his peek, but Big Papi has exceeded even the most optimistic projections despite his slow start. This makes it a tough argument for both sides. Ortiz will argue that he’s still able to hit, as a DH that’s all that matters, and the Red Sox will say they’re concerned with the first six to eight weeks of the season, where Ortiz contributes nothing. Had Ortiz found his swing in April, he would have crushed all these projections.

Bat to the Future

Over at Red Sox Beacon, Marc Normandin compared “Mike Lowell’s farewell campaign in 2010” to the possible 2012 version of David Ortiz. Do the Red Sox or Ortiz want to go out on that note? Obviously, Ortiz wants to get paid and have job security – we all want that – but there’s also something to going out with a bang over a whimper. If the Red Sox want Ortiz back, they’ll likely pick up his option so that the decision is clean and simple, even if it hurts the big guy’s feelings. Should he leave after next year, the Fenway Faithful will wish him well (as long as he doesn’t go to the Yankees), just as they did Pedro Martinez and Derek Lowe.

About Mike Carlucci

Mike Carlucci writes about the Red Sox for Sports of Boston and can be found blogging about baseball and technology. He has a J.D and enjoys palindromes and espresso. You can follow him on Twitter @mikecarlucci or on Google+.

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