BALTIMORE, MD - David Ortiz #34 of the Boston Red Sox smiles after doubling against the Baltimore Orioles during the first inning at Oriole Park at Camden Yards. (Photo by Rob Carr/Getty Images)
David Ortiz and the Boston Red Sox are playing a game of salary chicken. Who has the more reasonable offer?
David Ortiz, large human being and masher of baseballs, is poised to get a huge arbitration award. He might sit down in a room with a bunch of guys in suits whose job it is to explain how bad Ortiz was, and why he doesn't deserve as much money he thinks he does. Awkward.
If Ortiz goes before an arbitration panel, he might set the all-time record for a salary awarded by a panel, according to Maury Brown, who doesn't think that Ortiz and the Red Sox will go through arbitration. But according to Alex Speier, whatever Ortiz makes will have ramifications that could be felt throughout the season:
While GM Ben Cherington recently said that the team does not feel that the outcome of its arbitration cases would represent a "significant" swing in potential resources, the $3.85 million difference between the salary that Ortiz is requesting ($16.5 million) and the one that the team is offering ($12.65 million) could, in theory, represent the cost of acquiring a player like Matt Garza near the trade deadline.
Speier also opined that one of the problems for Ortiz is that he didn't have a great list of players against whom to compare, listing Adam Dunn, Gary Sheffield, Travis Hafner, and Victor Martinez as possible comps. Not a single one of those is especially good for various reasons. Hafner was younger when he was a prime DH, and inconsistent as he aged. Martinez was a catcher in addition to being a DH. Sheffield is probably the best baseball comp, based on what he was doing when he was Ortiz's age, but he wasn't a fan-favorite at any of his stops -- at least, nothing like Ortiz, who still sells jerseys like few others.
Ortiz made $12.5 million last year; the Red Sox' $12.65 million offer is risky. It's not even a cost-of-living increase. It was more like Brian Doyle-Murray signing Ortiz up for the Jelly-of-the-Month Club than an honest bonus. In millionaire terms, at least. And while Ortiz has made over $83 million in his career, he didn't receive his first eight-figure payday until he was 30. He's never been paid like Prince Fielder or Jayson Werth; even Mo Vaughn made more money as he wound down his career with the Mets. Ortiz has seen something close to 50 percent of true slugger's wages, probably because he's only responsible for playing 50 percent of the game. But his request isn't outlandish.
The deadline is Monday, and the odds are still pretty good that Ortiz and the Red Sox settle. The gap between the two sides is big, but I'd have to think that the Sox are a little worried about losing. I don't recall a player having a productive year like Ortiz did, going to arbitration, and the team offering little more than the previous year's salary. This isn't the usual arbitration case -- Ortiz was a free agent who accepted arbitration rather than a youngish player approaching free agency -- but the offer from the Red Sox seems risky. Thanks for the great season, sorry about that pitching at the end, and here's $150,000: Go buy yourself something nice.
This is probably a good time to remind you of two things:
1. The Twins didn't offer a 27-year-old Ortiz a contract when he was up for arbitration the first time after the 2002 season, deciding that his $1.25 million salary would be too much. Their DHs the following two seasons would be Matt LeCroy and Jose Offerman.
2. We're still talking about David Ortiz as one of the best DHs and sluggers in the game. Based on his body type and skill set, a lot of us probably figured he was done right about here. Two-plus years later, and he's still an important cog in the Red Sox machine. The renaissance was impressive.
Ortiz is likely close to signing -- there was even a tweet, since deleted, by a CSNNE reporter who says that Larry Lucchino confirmed an agreement on a radio interview -- so don't expect an arbitration war. But as someone who doesn't really care about the outcome either way, here's hoping that it goes to arbitration. Cases don't get more fascinating than this.