BOSTON (CBS) – The multi-year extension handed down by the Red Sox to David Ortiz this winter is one of the more questionable moves made by this already dubious Sox management group.
Why did the Sox decide to make giving Ortiz a multi-year deal a priority this winter when he was coming off a yet-to-be healed Achilles injury?
Why did they choose to do something they were so hesitant to do in past years for a healthy Ortiz, yet so willing to do for the now injured and aging DH?
In the past two offseasons, Red Sox management went out of its way to take Papi to the brink of arbitration; never coming close on the multi-year agreement that Ortiz had coveted.
In those two years Ortiz averaged 145 games played and over 30 home runs, yet never sniffed a viable 2-year deal.
In December of 2011, Papi rejected a two-year, $19 million offer from Ben Cherington and accepted their one-year, $14.5 million offer instead in order to avoid arbitration.
The prior offseason following David’s 2010 season, the Sox were also wary of giving Ortiz a multi-year extension and opted pick up his option year for $12.5 million.
Which leads us to this winter, in which Papi was two years older than the first time Sox management failed to reach an accord on a two-year deal and far less healthy. David was coming off a season where he played in only 90 games and was hampered by a severe Achilles injury (which has yet to heal).
As opposed to the prior two offseason negotiations, the Sox were not building a championship roster this winter and the team had far more holes than it did stars. The 2013 Red Sox needed an injured, nearly 40-year-old DH as much as they did a return of sideshow clown Bobby Valentine as manager — yet they caved and gave David Ortiz the two years and $26 million he had been asking for.
As with everything surrounding this ownership group the best way to understand their motives is by following the money. The Sox were coming off their worst season in a generation and were miles away from building a championship-caliber roster. Having learned from the debacle that was Carl Crawford and Adrian Gonzalez, even this detached ownership group was smart enough to understand that Josh Hamilton and other high priced available free agents were too risky to sign and not the answer.
Boston fans were hearing chatter regarding an impending sale of the organization and the ownership group appeared as distracted as ever with their other Fenway Sports Group responsibilities.
For the first time in the John Henry led stewardship of the franchise, season ticket sales actually required an ad campaign in order to garner widespread renewals. So Henry and Co. decided the best strategy to bring fans back to Fenway was to field a roster with likable players along with a trusted manager.
Cherington’s first order of duty this offseason was to hire said trusted manager (a task Lucchino stole from him last year when he brought today’s Sacred Heart AD Bobby Valentine to hold the corner office at Fenway) and Ben wasted no time in grabbing John Farrell from Toronto; a man who brought credibility back to the managerial job and the hope of reviving a pitching staff he had once helped to build.
While the Red Sox had already hired an established leader as their manager a major issue remained: they had to sell tickets and they needed a star player to be willing and able to help. Tom Werner did not need to look far for the perfect pitch man who best epitomized the curse breaking, fun-filled glory days of years past; Big Papi. Ortiz had made no bones about his disdain with going year to year in Boston, and this was his golden opportunity to capitalize on the vacuum of stars on the roster.
So the Red Sox brass prioritized Papi’s Q-rating over the health of his Achilles, and finally capitulated to the once great slugger’s two-year contract demand.
Ortiz has yet to be cleared for Spring Training play and he may not even be ready for Opening Day. But fear not Red Sox fans, at least his new NESN ad has been given the green light for April 1.