Having won 2 titles, David Ortiz hopes to spur Red Sox rebound next year
BOSTON – David Ortiz got what he wanted a lot easier than he ever expected.
Ortiz, the face of the Red Sox since helping Boston end an 86-year World Series drought in 2004, finalized a $26 million, two-year contract on Monday, a deal that could be worth up to $30 million if he avoids another significant Achilles tendon injury next year.
The soon-to-be 37-year old had expressed his preference for a two-year deal the past two seasons. The club decided that keeping him and agreeing to his desire was a good first move this offseason.
"I don't think there was any doubt," he said during a Fenway Park news conference. "They approached me this year and our negotiation this year was easier than ever. They know what they were looking for. There wasn't even ever a back and forth situation. It was pretty much: 'This is it and let's agree with it.' They know the pieces they need to put together to be successful this year."
Ortiz gets a $1 million signing bonus payable on Jan. 15 and salaries of $14 million next season and $11 million in 2014.
His 2014 salary would increase to $15 million if he has 20 or fewer days on the disabled list next season caused by an Achilles tendon injury — such as the one that limited him to one game after July 16 this year. If he has 21-40 days on the DL next year caused by an Achilles injury, his 2014 salary would go up to $13 million. The 2014 salary would not escalate if he has 41 days or more on the DL next year caused by an Achilles injury.
"After the season we identified a lot of things we wanted to do this offseason," general manager Ben Cherington said. "The most important one was to get David signed. This is a very important first step to our offseason. David has been an incredible performer for the Red Sox for 10 years. What he's done on the field speaks for itself. He's also been an incredible leader of the team as well as one can possibly do that."
Sitting at a table with Cherington to his right, one couldn't miss the World Series rings that Ortiz was wearing from 2004 and 2007.
Now, he'd like to help the team build from a last-place finish and 69-93 record, Boston's poorest since 1966.
"My focus right now is to provide what this organization expects from me the next two years," he said. "I'm a person that likes to get prepared for a challenge. Ben talked to me during the season and told me and a couple of my teammates he wants to build an organization around us. It's very painful to see what we went through this season."
During the club's historic 2004 run, Big Papi had consecutive game-ending hits in extra innings of Games 4 and 5 of the AL championship series against the Yankees as the Red Sox became the first major league team to overcome a 0-3 deficit in a best-of-seven postseason series.
The eight-time All-Star has 343 homers for Boston, fifth on the team's career list, and has 1,088 RBIs.
"We looked at the body of work and the track record. He's been incredibly productive and durable throughout the course of his career," Cherington said. "He's been one of the more consistent and durable players in the game over a long span of time. That gave us the comfort to give him a two-year deal, which was important to David."
Ortiz, who will turn 37 on Nov. 18, is a career .285 hitter with 401 homers and 1,386 RBIs.
He was having another solid year, batting .318 with 23 homers and 60 RBIs before going down with the Achilles injury in mid-July. He played in just one game the rest of the season.
During an interview on NBC Sports Network in October, ex-Red Sox manager Bobby Valentine said Ortiz "decided not to play anymore" after Boston traded Adrian Gonzalez, Carl Crawford and Josh Beckett to the Los Angeles Dodgers in a move predicated on dumping salary.
Ortiz downplayed the issue in the first question of the news conference.
"About the Bobby situation, I try to not add too much," he said. "You guys know it was something that made me feel uncomfortable. You guys know I've been here the last 10 years and know how I go about my business. The most important thing is you guys are face to face with every day, and you already know how important it is to be on the field and represent what I need to do."
He closed the answer with "It's time to turn the page and move on."
Asked whether he'd like to finish his career after this contract, the very personable Ortiz had a playful answer.
"The one thing I always keep in mind is when I'm full swinging and the ball isn't going anywhere, that's when its time to go," he said, smiling. "But I haven't gotten there yet."
"We're thrilled to keep him here. We want David to retire with the Red Sox," Cherington said. "We hope that's many years from now. Right now we're happy that he'll be sitting in the middle of our lineup next year."
Ortiz has played 10 seasons with the Red Sox after he was let go by the Minnesota Twins.