Ortizí Struggles Put Sox In Bind
Since hitting his first home run of the season in the fifth inning on May 20, David Ortiz is 5-for-42 (.119) with three doubles, no homers, one RBI and 14 strikeouts. Ortizí problems are clearly serious and wonít be cured by a giving him a few days off to regroup or demoting him in the lineup.
The effect of Ortizí impotency on the teamís success this season is potentially great and the Red Sox have few options for remedying the situation.
The Red Sox will do everything possible to avoid benching Ortiz or drastically reducing his playing time. Without a productive Ortiz in the lineup, the teamís chances of winning a third championship in the last six years decrease dramatically.
There is also a financial issue to consider. The Red Sox payroll is already saddled with $9 million in deadweight courtesy of Julio Lugo. Itís unrealistic to think the team will decide to sit Ortiz and add his hefty salary to that total, to say nothing of what theyíd have to pay any replacement they acquire via trade.
Conversely, itís virtually impossible to imagine a scenario in which the team completely gives up on Ortiz and either trades or releases him. While itís unlikely that Ortiz will ever regain the form that made him one of the most feared hitters in the game the last half decade, the Red Sox realize itís far too premature to write his obituary.
A year ago, Carlos Delgado was battling through a miserable start to his season and the consensus was that he was washed-up. Delgado rebounded to post an OPS of .992 after the All-Star break and eliminated any doubts in the process.
Some members of Red Sox Nation have concluded that Ortizí best days are now behind him (including some friends of mine) and that the Red Sox should deal him. However given Ortizí contract and his total lack of offensive firepower to this point in the season, he has zero trade value, even if the Red Sox agreed to pay his entire remaining salary.
Furthermore, itís doubtful that the uber PR-conscious Red Sox front office would ever run the risk of shipping Ortiz out of town and allow him to revive his career elsewhere. Given Ortizí status as the ďgreatest clutch hitter in Red Sox historyĒ and the face of the franchise, the emotional citizens of the Nation would never forgive the team if Ortiz left Boston and became someoneís Papi Ruth or somehow had a Clemensí like resurgence.
In short, the Ortiz situation is a minefield for the Red Sox. Every possible step could backfire and explode in their faces. The safest path is straight ahead, slow and steady.
Anyone expecting Theo Epstein to pull another rabbit out of his magical hat and ingeniously solve this dilemma as he has done so often during his tenure as GM may be asking too much.
At best, Red Sox Nation should hold its collective breath and hope that Epstein and the Red Sox have the right map for navigating the perilous terrain ahead.
Justin Booth is a diehard Red Sox fan living in Brookline, MA and uses his above average writing skills to opine about his favorite team. He can be reached by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.
This column was written on May 31, 2009.