The Red Sox have a decision to make regarding David Ortiz’ future with the team, and while it doesn’t have to be made just yet, we can start talking about it now with 2010 coming to a close. Big Papi discussed the topic himself recently, and fully expects to play in 2011–for who is a question, but it’s a little one. The chances of him returning to Boston are high, and the more important question is whether or not he returns thanks to the Sox picking up his $12.5 million option for 2011, or if they decline it in order to renegotiate and add another year or more to the deal.
There are pros and cons to either approach. Declining the option would likely save Boston money in 2011 and allow them to spread out the cost over two years, but on the other hand you have to add another year of Ortiz, who, despite his production, is still an aging slugger whose April struggles could become year long ones faster than many of us want to admit. There has been a whole lot of goodwill surrounding Mike Lowell’s farewell campaign in 2010 despite his production, but repeating the process in 2012 with a replacement level David Ortiz is not something anyone should be looking forward to no matter how much they love watching the big guy play.
Ortiz may not be eager to sign another deal with an option attached to it for the second year either considering Boston would have declined his 2011 one in order to bring him to the negotiating table, so picking it up for 2011 and going from there after the year seems to be the route worth exploring.
What would the Sox be getting for the $12.5M invested in the 35 year old designated hitter? Ortiz’ season seems to have come out of nowhere for those who remember his 2009, but in reality it’s very similar to his 2008 campaign. Adding to that, his year is right in line with his 70th percentile forecast from Baseball Prospectus’ PECOTA–the system projected a .284/.381/.545 line with a .299 TAv, and Ortiz is at .261/.362/.527 with a .299 TAv, the only difference being some points of batting average. For 2011, PECOTA spit out a line of .265/.360/.486 in 465 plate appearances. That line assumes he hit his weighted mean in 2010 (he was above it as referenced a moment ago) so maybe we can expect a little more in terms of power from Ortiz in 2011, but the average and on-base look spot on to me.
The .292 TAv for 2011 is close to this year’s production, and would place Ortiz well above the average for his position–the league average DH in 2010 hit .252/.333/.430, which are numbers that PECOTA had for Ortiz close to for his 10th percentile (the very bottom range) forecast for the season. If they manage to keep him in the lineup as often as they did in 2010, Ortiz would match his contract’s value, as the cost of a win on the free agent market is approximately $5 million, and a full year worth of a .292 TAv would be worth somewhere in the neighborhood of 2.5-3 wins over replacement.
PECOTA actually likes Ortiz’ chances at remaining productive for quite a few years more–he’s not expected to nose dive until 2014 in terms of production–but the amount of playing time forecasted for him is nowhere near as optimistic. Ortiz’ comparable players in history were not the kind to stay in the lineup every day as they aged, so expecting him to be there for 500-600 plate appearances while he inches closer to 40 is a risk–this is the primary reason to just pick up the option and see how Ortiz handles himself in 2011 before committing to 2012 or beyond.