COMMENTARY| David Ortiz has been nothing short of an enigma. The veteran slugger just continues to produce despite injuries and aging. Ortiz signed a new two-year deal with the Boston Red Sox, who expect him to be ready to go at the beginning of the 2013 season. Ortiz, 37, will be expected to be one of the best hitters for the Red Sox this year, just as he has been over the past 10 seasons.
But how long can Boston continue to trust Ortiz? Every player has an expiration date, and Ortiz looked like his was in 2009. That year he managed just a .238 BA while striking out 134 times. Ortiz did manage 28 HRs, but his RBI total was under 100. The 2009 season was the second-straight year of declining numbers for Ortiz. During the 2008 season, while dealing with a nagging wrist injury, he hit a tepid .264 with 23 HRs.
It was easy for Red Sox Nation to believe that Ortiz was on a rapid decline. His numbers were dwindling and injuries were interfering. However, a funny thing happened in 2010. Ortiz came back to life. By belting 32 HRs and driving in 102 runs, he pumped his average back up to .270. The 2011 season was solid as well as Ortiz hit .309, with 29 HRs and 102 RBIs. He continued to cruise into his contract year last season. He was hitting .318 with 23 HRs and 60 RBIs before injuring his Achilles tendon in mid-July. Ortiz didn't play the rest of the year, but he certainly proved his value to get a new multi-year deal from the Red Sox.
With a new deal in place and apparent good health, what is expected from Ortiz in 2013? The Red Sox will have very high expectations. Ortiz is statistically the best power hitter on the team. He hasn't hit fewer than 23 HRs in a season since 2002. That was also the last season in which he hit fewer than 60 RBIs. The Red Sox will look for Ortiz to be the big bat in the middle of a lineup that is lacking in the home-run department. The only other member back from last year's team who had over 20 HRs is Jarrod Saltalamacchia. Jacoby Ellsbury has hit that many before, and Will Middlebrooks has the capability, but the pressure will be on Ortiz.
How will Ortiz handle that pressure? How long can he realistically continue to produce? It's tough to tell. Barry Bonds had several years of hitting 20+ HRs while in his 40s, but how legit were they? Meanwhile, the last 20+ HR season Ken Griffey Jr. had was when he was 37.
There's no established age when someone breaks down, especially a power hitter who relies so much on his body. Ortiz has been lucky in that department. The wrist injury could have been detrimental, but he responded very well when healed. It will be interesting to see how he comes back from his Achilles injury, though all signs point to his being healthy. Staying healthy will bring a great payoff to Ortiz. His contract can increase by 4 million if the Achilles doesn't sideline him during the 2013 season.
The Red Sox took a gamble on this deal, but how great a gamble remains to be seen. Boston committed a sizable chunk of money ($26 million) to their slugger over the next two years. However, it's just two years to commit to an aging slugger. Compared to other deals on the team (John Lackey's for example), it's a good value. And what a deal it will be if Ortiz continues to play like he's 27, not 37.
Chris Sedenka is a Yahoo! Contributor in Sports covering the Boston Red Sox. You can listen to his daily radio show on 96.3FM in Portland, ME or at thebigjab.com. He is also the voice of the Maine Red Claws of the NBA D-League.
You can follow Chris on Twitter @ChrisSedenka.
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