BOSTON – It had to be done. The Red Sox needed to bring David Ortiz back for 2013, even if it meant overpaying for the services of a 37-year old designated hitter.
And that’s exactly what they did. There was no way Big Papi would make this kind of money on the open market.
GM Ben Cherington could’ve easily said “go ahead — see what you can get out there, and let us know.”
Ortiz may have signed elsewhere, but it would’ve been for a lot less than the $26 million he’ll get over the next two years in Boston. With incentives, he could make even more.
Is that what Cherington really wanted to do? After suffering through the team’s worst season in 47 years, Red Sox fans would’ve had a hard time watching Ortiz put on a Texas Rangers jersey even if made economic sense for Boston.
Ortiz is the only remaining member of the 2004 team that ended an 86-year championship drought at Fenway Park.
As Cherington tries to build what he likes to call “the next great Red Sox team” he needs something to build around.
The Red Sox brand has taken a major hit over the past 14 months, and this franchise needs to restore some of the luster it lost during a 93-loss campaign.
They started to do that with the hiring of John Farrell, a move that ends the turmoil of the short-lived Bobby Valentine era.
Now, they’ve continued the process by making sure Ortiz remains a Red Sox player until the end of his career.
This isn’t, however, just a public-relations move.
Ortiz can still hit.
Last season, he was batting .316 with a .414 on-base percentage and .609 slugging percentage when he strained his Achilles on July 16th.
Although he only played one game for the remainder of the season, he finished second on the team in home runs.
At the time of the injuries, Boston was two games above .500. Any hope of a second-half turnaround came to an end when Ortiz went down. The Sox went 23-49 the rest of the way, and were jettisoning veterans by mid-August.
In the days that followed the Achilles injury, Ortiz was concerned that he would not be able to prove his worth if he wasn’t playing.
Instead, Red Sox fans were reminded of his true value.
Watching the Red Sox lineup without Big Papi was the biggest evidence that the Sox needed to keep the DH around.
If it took two years and far more money than a designated hitter is worth these days, so be it. It needed to be done.
Signing Ortiz was an easy, albeit expensive, decision to make. Now comes the real work for General Manager Ben Cherington.
There are gaping holes at first base and left field. There will be another if the Sox can’t sign Cody Ross now that he’s hit free agency.
They need a starting pitcher and bullpen help and they need to add depth across the board.
As we’ve said for months, the Sox have the payroll flexibility to rebuild. That’s why Cherington traded some $250 million to Los Angeles back in August.
Yet having money to spend doesn’t make you a contender. Spending that money wisely does.
There are intriguing options out there, from big-money players like Josh Hamilton to older, veteran players like Torii Hunter.
Let’s see what Cherington does with the money as he tries to make this team whole.
Before he could start adding to the team, Cherington had to keep what little core he had intact.
In 2012 we were reminded once again that Ortiz was a big part of that nucleus. He has been since 2003, and apparently will be for another two years.
Tom Caron is the studio host for Red Sox broadcasts on the New England Sports Network. His column appears in the Press Herald on Tuesdays.