EagleTribune.com, North Andover, MA

November 5, 2012

Risky Ortiz deal the beginning of interesting offseason

On Pro Baseball Christopher Smith
The Eagle-Tribune

---- — BOSTON — Red Sox general manager Ben Cherington boards a flight this morning to the GM meetings in Indian Wells, Calif. with a lengthy to-do list.

He and new manager John Farrell must finish putting together the coaching staff and Cherington must begin to gather information on possible trade options and evaluate the worth of free agents.

One thing the second-year GM doesn’t have to worry about anymore is David Ortiz, who he re-signed Friday to a two-year $26 million deal with $4 million in possible incentives. The signing was announced at a press conference here at Fenway Park yesterday.

The word “risky” best describes this two-year contract. After all, the DH will be 37 on Nov. 18, failed a performance enhancing drug test in 2003, missed 72 games this past season with a strained Achilles tendon suffered jogging the bases and complained way too much about his one-year contract last season, showing he sometimes has a me-first personality when the Sox need team-first players.

Additionally, Ortiz showed signs of slowing down with the bat when he hit .238 in 2009, including a .143 May. He also batted .143 during the first month of ‘10 before rebounding to bat .270 that year.

But the Red Sox certainly weighed the negatives and positives, had the money to spend and needed a big bat in the middle of the order. If Ortiz resembles the type of hitter he was in 90 games in 2012 (he batted .318 with a .415 on-base percentage, 23 homers and 60 RBIs), then the Red Sox made the right move.

Boston averaged approximately one run less per game after Ortiz suffered his injury July 16.

The $4 million in incentives should provide Ortiz a reason to stay in the best shape possible.

“Towards the end of the year, we all, including David, spent a lot of time with our medical staff trying to figure out the right plan for him moving forward,” Cherington said after the press conference. “During the course of those conversations, it became pretty clear that this is something that we feel like can be managed. And knowing David, and how hard he will work at it, our medical staff is very optimistic about him being on the field a lot. There’s no guarantees.”

It’s unlikely any other club would have offered Ortiz a two-year deal because of his age and Achilles injury and because the Red Sox had offered the DH a one-year qualifying offer, meaning if another team signed Ortiz if he had went to free agency, that team would have lost a draft pick.

“We identified a number of things we wanted to do this winter but the most important one was to work to get David re-signed,” Cherington said.

So what is next?

The Red Sox are interested in bringing back Cody Ross if the price is right. Boston did not extend a one-year, $13 million qualifying offer to Ross.

Cherington also identified adding a starting pitcher as an important need.

The Red Sox finished with one of the 10 worst records in the majors, meaning their first-round pick is protected. If they are to sign one of the top free agents who received a qualifying offer, then Boston would have to give up only a second-round pick instead of first-rounder.

“There’s still value in a pick in that range (second round),” Cherington said. “And so we have to factor that into whatever the cost is to sign a player.

“We’re considering all sorts of pitching options both free agents and also I’m sure we’ll talk to teams about trades,” Cherington added. “What we want to do is add to the 2013 rotation. And we’d like to do that in a way that’s smart for the long term, too. We do believe that we have better upper-level starting pitching depth than we did a year ago.”

The free agent market is thinner than in past years. But there certainly are some attractive free agents worth pursuing, including outfielder/first baseman Nick Swisher, catcher/first baseman Mike Napoli and starting pitchers Anibal Sanchez, Dan Haren and Edwin Jackson.

Bringing back Ross at the right price is important because he showed he has a perfect swing for Fenway Park and the right personality for this market. Ross batted 298 with a .356 on-base percentage, 13 homers and 49 RBIs in home games this year.

“He’s in a good position now,” Cherington said about Ross and his strong ‘12 season. “It makes it tougher to sign him. We’ll keep the door open. We’ll keep talking. At the same time, we’ve got to consider alternatives, too.”

ODDS AND ENDS: The Red Sox hope to name a pitching coach sometime this week. ... The Red Sox have candidates for their open hitting coach position and likely will begin interviews this week. ... Ortiz has started leg exercises as he recovers from his Achilles injury.