The Boston Red Sox are taking the first steps toward rebuilding the franchise's fortunes off the field, as they step up their search for a new manager. But the first key step toward recovery on the field will be the signing of potential free agent David Ortiz to a new multi-year contract.
The Red Sox have been reluctant to commit to multiple years with Ortiz recently, and have reached a series of one-year deals with the designated hitter. It hasn't set well with Big Papi, but the team had all the leverage, and Ortiz had few choices. Now, things are different.
Ortiz is far removed from the struggles at the plate that had some Red Sox fans wondering if he was through as a power hitter. In fact, despite an injury that cut his season short and caused him to miss nearly half the season, Ortiz turned in one of his best performances at the plate in several years. He batted .318 and belted 23 home runs in just 90 games.
"David is someone who we feel strongly about bringing back," says Red Sox general manager Ben Cherington. "We're trying to figure out a way to do that and we hope that happens."
The August trade of first baseman Adrian Gonzalez to the Los Angeles Dodgers leaves a power vacuum in the Red Sox lineup, and it is critical that it gets filled. Barring an offseason acquisition, Ortiz is the biggest power threat the team has, and they need to find a way to keep him.
Unlike past seasons, when his performance, injury risk and the market for designated hitters left Ortiz with few options, his bounceback season at the plate opens up possibilities for him this year. You can bet that new Cleveland Indians manager Terry Francona would like his bat in the middle of that lineup, for instance. So the Red Sox should step out of their comfort zone and make a two-year offer, perhaps with an option for a third year, that would keep Big Papi in Boston.
''All I want is respect,'' Ortiz says of the offseason contract talks that will start next week. ''That's all I've ever said. I thought you were supposed to be keeping good players? Especially like the market is in today's day. There's not going to be too much out there. Why would you let a good player go? That's all I ask.''
Most Red Sox fans, like me, understood the team's strategy in contract negotiations with Ortiz in the past. With no viable options, they didn't need to take on the risk of any deal longer than a year. But circumstances have changed. The team is coming off its worst season in decades, it needs a power hitter in the middle of the lineup, and the club's past perfomance concerns regarding Ortiz have proved unfounded. Now, they need to step up and lock up one of the faces of the franchise.
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Rick Blaine, an award-winning broadcaster and columnist, is a lifelong Red Sox fan. Follow him on Twitter @RickBlaineCT.