Done deal: Big Papi in Boston for next two years
Slugging DH has averaged 34 homers, 109 RBIs in 10 seasons with Red Sox
BOSTON -- Though there still had to be some negotiations, David Ortiz knew this time that he was coming back to the Red Sox for sure.
As a depressing regular season was winding down in New York in early October, general manager Ben Cherington improved Ortiz's mood considerably when he made it clear to him that he was part of the solution going forward.
"Right after the season, 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," said Cherington. "This is a very important first step in our offseason. David's 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 a great leader off the field and represented the team as well as you can hope to do that."
Ortiz, an iconic figure in Boston for a decade, officially signed a two-year, $26 million contract on Monday, a deal that should help him reach his goal of retiring with the Red Sox.
"I want to really thank the ownership for approaching me and letting me know that they want me back," said Ortiz. "They went straight up to me and let me know what they were planning on doing, and that got me more than confident walking into the offseason knowing that I was going to be a Red Sox."
Wearing a 2004 World Series ring on one hand and the '07 ring on the other, Ortiz made it clear that getting the Red Sox back to top-contender status remains his top priority.
If Ortiz has surprised people with the way he has produced in his mid-30s, he knows there's a reason for it.
"There's one thing I'm going to make clear right here -- I get prepared to play," he said. "I like to see the pain in the opposition. I like to win. ... The season is never over for me. I'm still working, still putting myself together right now, when everybody's vacationing. I love winning. I love performing well. Sometimes things don't work out the way you expect, but in my concern, I think the way I have always seen my career, the harder you work, the payoff is going to show up at some point. That's always been my goal."
After Ortiz was released by the Twins after the 2002 season, the Red Sox took a one-year, low-risk gamble on him. It turned out to be more than worth it, as the left-handed slugger developed into a Most Valuable Player candidate in his first year in Boston, and has been one of the most feared sluggers in the game throughout his 10 years with the team.
"David Ortiz has been one of the most positive influences in Red Sox history," said principal owner John Henry. "He has been a leader among his teammates, a favorite among the fans and a powerful force in the middle of lineups that have produced so much joy and happiness for New England. He has our gratitude and respect as he continues a career that could culminate in Cooperstown."
In this transient era, in which players go from one city to the next, Ortiz is one of the few that is strongly identified by the team for which he plays.
"We want David to retire as a Red Sox," said Cherington. "We hope that's many years from now, but right now we're just happy he's going to be sitting there in the middle of our lineup once again next year."
Ortiz will be 39 when this contract expires. He didn't rule out playing beyond the 2014 season.
"I want to see how things go the next couple of years," he said. "I like the challenge of being able to do the right thing. Like I always tell everyone, the best thing that can ever happen to a player is recognizing what your body is capable [of] as you get older. That's something I've been on top of the last couple of years, and I've been learning some things. Not only because of the game, but the family you come from, genetics and stuff like that. I've been working pretty good, feeling great.
"After the next couple of years, it's going to be a 17-year career. But it all depends. I have to see how my body feels and stuff after the next couple of years and decide what I'm doing."
There is a bond between the city of Boston and Ortiz, between the highest levels of the Red Sox organization and Ortiz.
Ortiz's son D'Angelo is even a fixture around the team. In fact, president/CEO Larry Lucchino jokingly gave the 8-year-old a five-dollar contract on Monday.
But the Red Sox weren't merely sentimental in giving Ortiz his two-year deal. Before he injured his right Achilles in July, Ortiz proved that he is still one of the elite hitters in the game.
"It was a question of his performance and his capacity to continue to perform," said Lucchino. "That was first and foremost. We certainly factor into the equation the popularity of our players, the leadership potential of our players, other subjective factors that go beyond on the field performance."
Ortiz's contract came to fruition far quicker than his last one, a year ago, when he accepted Boston's offer of arbitration in early December but didn't reach a deal until minutes before a scheduled hearing in February. Papi knew he would be coming back.
"I don't think there was any doubt," said Ortiz. "They approached me really well. Our negotiation this year was easier than ever. They knew what they were looking for."
The sides agreed to terms on Friday night but had to finish some procedural matters before the contract was completed on Monday.
"Signing David Ortiz was a critical piece of our offseason planning," said Lucchino. "It was one of our highest priorities. We hope and trust he will complete his career as a member of this franchise and will be associated with the Boston Red Sox for years to come."
After playing on one-year deals the past two seasons, Ortiz, who will turn 37 this month, received the multiyear security he had been seeking.
"We have all had the good fortune to have been Red Sox fans for more than 10 years and to have seen David Ortiz transform from a baseball player into a revered hero," said chairman Tom Werner. "He connects with people, he cares about people, and is a role model not just for New England but for all of baseball. We are all thrilled that he will be continuing his stellar career with the Red Sox."
Ortiz batted .318 with 23 homers and 60 RBIs in only 90 games in 2012, missing most of the second half with a right Achilles injury. He has batted .290 with 343 homers and 1,088 RBIs in his 10 seasons with Boston.
"We know how hard he's going to work to put himself in the best position to play and be healthy, and since we work with him so much, we know what happened with the Achilles this year," said Cherington. "He's feeling a lot better now. It's not a concern moving forward any more than it would be for any other player. As we approached this, we looked at the body of work, the track record -- he's been incredibly productive and durable. ... That gave us the comfort to do a two-year deal, which was important to David."
Not only has Ortiz been productive over the years, he's been clutch. He was a central force in helping the Red Sox win their first two World Series championships since 1918.
With Cherington now retooling a bit and trying to build what he calls "the next great Red Sox team," Ortiz and second baseman Dustin Pedroia will be the veteran hitters who will try to bridge the franchise to its next championship.
"I know I'm a force in this organization and this ballclub, and Ben talked to me through the season, and a couple of my teammates. He let us know he wants to build this organization around us, and that's something I told Ben straight up -- I'm up to the challenge," Ortiz said. "This is an organization that I try to represent the best I can, and it's very painful to see what we went through this season, and you know, they're doing the job to put a good thing together for next year. We'll be sure we have a better season -- just like everybody expects."