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Papi Moving On: Calculated Bluff or Serious Threat?

Richard Cooke

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Published January 29. 2014 11:26AM   Updated January 29. 2014 11:50AM

Ah, yes. After a short hiatus, we’ve returned. And damn it feels good to be back.

In one of the busiest weeks in sports for media, all eyes are glued on the Super Bowl matchup between the Seahawks and the Broncos. That is, of course, unless you’re Tom Brady. He won’t even watch his ex-buddy Wes Welker catch passes from Peyton Manning, something Wes didn’t do from Tom in the Super Bowl two years ago. Sorry, low blow? That was too easy…

Like I was saying, while most are focused on Sunday’s game, David Ortiz didn’t fail to squeak his way into the spotlight.

In an interview on CBS4, Papi mentioned he “would like to” retire with the Red Sox, but not without sneaking in that it may be “time to move on” if they don’t offer him a multi-year deal after the season.

“I always keep telling people, this is a business. Sometimes you’ve got to do what’s best for you and your family,” he added. “As long as they keep offering me a job and I keep doing what I’m supposed to do and the relationship keeps building, I’m going to be there. Hopefully, I won’t have to go and wear another uniform… If I have to [leave], I’ve got no choice.”

I see what you did there Papi, putting the ball in the court of the front office. Insinuating you want to stay in Boston for your career, but only if the Red Sox agree to your terms. Well played.

Ortiz is entering the final year of the two-year $26 million deal he signed after the 2012 season, which increased to $30 million because of incentives. Last season, he earned every penny of that contract, and then some. But will the 38-year-old continue to perform at a level worth of that kind of money?

Some may argue the easy fix to this situation would be tacking on an extra year to his contract before the 2014 season starts, locking him up for the next two seasons and essentially giving him a “multi-year deal”. The issue with that? His stock right now is at it’s highest, coming off one of the most dominating performances in World Series history. At minimum, Boston would have to match his annual base salary of $13 million over the past two years.

Then again, do you want the face of your franchise, the man who carried your team on his back to a third World Series title in a decade, to play this season with his future in question?

Where have we seen this similar situation before? Ah, that’s right, that Jeter guy a few years back. Coming off statistically the worst season of his career in 2010, at the age of 36, the Yankees were faced with the great debate: Do you really let Derek Jeter walk? He wanted a multi-year deal, and certainly wasn’t willing to take a pay cut. The Yankees folded, throwing $51 million at their captain for three years. He bounced back nicely with a solid 2011 campaign, and a 2012 season that had him in the running for MVP.

A gesture that seemed to be more “thanks for what you’ve done” suddenly turned into money well spent for solid performance.

So where do we draw the line?

Nobody will question Ortiz is still one of the most feared hitters in baseball, but there was a point in the not-so-distant past where Albert Pujols and Josh Hamilton held that title as well. I’ll let you check their contracts compared to their numbers and cringe.

Red Sox GM Ben Cherington is wise with the money he spends, certainly more frugal than Yankees GM Brian Cashman. While New York was more willing to give Jeter his big deal, Boston may not be, even if he means just as much to the franchise.

I find this threat to be more bark than bite from Papi. It’s a very calculated bluff Ortiz has posed to GM Ben Cherington and the Red Sox front office. And good for him, he’s playing hard ball, he’s earned that right.

But could the Red Sox really let Ortiz walk after this season? The thought seems unfathomable. The old saying is it’s better to get rid of them a year early than a year late. But when it comes to franchise-transforming players, like Jeter and Ortiz, emotions overpower logic.

What it comes down to is his performance this season. If Ortiz can put up solid numbers again this season, he gets his multi-year contract and we avoid a meltdown of epic proportion from Red Sox Nation. If his numbers falter significantly? Things get complicated to say the least.

Ortiz is invested in Boston just as much as Boston is invested in him. He doesn’t want to leave. Moving on from a dynasty he helped build and a fan base that worships him for another guaranteed year and a couple million bucks doesn’t seem logical. Then again, like he said, it is a business.

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