ESPN’s Buster Olney tweeted this on Saturday, surfacing the possibility of Big Papi becoming a member of the Jays next season.
In an interview with ESPN’s Colleen Dominguez last Thursday, Ortiz, who becomes a free agent later this month, mentioned that there was “too much” drama in Boston and that he didn’t even know if he “wanted to be a part of this drama next year.” With Ortiz implying that he’ll look to play for another team in 2012, there will surely be a list of teams that would love to acquire his services. Ortiz tops the list of available designated hitters this winter and, outside of Prince Fielder and Albert Pujols, his bat tops the list of free agent first basemen as well.
It’s been impossible to ignore the kind of numbers Ortiz put up during his time with the Red Sox. Over his nine seasons in Boston, he compiled a .289/.387/.570 slash line with 320 home runs, 1028 RBIs, and 769 walks. He won two World Series and four Silver Sluggers, made seven All-Star teams, and finished in the top five in AL MVP voting in five consecutive seasons. Ortiz has also amassed 244 career postseason at-bats with a .283 average and .908 OPS. For those who are quick to point out that Ortiz’s best numbers and notable accomplishments came mostly in the 2003-2007 seasons, his numbers from over the last four years are nothing to sneeze at, either.
From 2008-2011 — where he had a career-worst 2009 campaign — Ortiz went 541-for-2000 (.271) with an .880 OPS, and an average of 35 doubles, 28 home runs, and 76 walks. All those figures are certainly respectable, but when you slot those next to the numbers of the Jays’ 2011 regulars, it’s eye-opening.
Ortiz’s average of a .271 average and .367 on-base percentage over the last four seasons would rank third behind Jose Bautista and Yunel Escobar. His .513 slugging percentage, 28 home runs, and 76 walks would be second only to Bautista, and 35 doubles would be one shy of Edwin Encarnacion for the team lead. Then, when you factor in that Ortiz’s doubles (40) and triple slash line (.309/.398/.554) this past season were the highest they’ve been in four years, it’s easy to see that he can definitely still produce offensively at an elite level, and that his bat would definitely help the Jays.
In addition to his bat, obviously, Ortiz brings a lot to the table off the field, too, as Olney’s tweet mentions. As it stands right now, aside from Colby Rasmus‘ 11 plate appearances in the 2009 NLDS, not one member of the 2012 Jays roster has any kind of postseason or pennant race experience. That’s not saying that the Jays are guaranteed to contend next year, but if they did, surely it would be nice for them to have someone with the experience that Ortiz has, even if the Jays just missed out on a playoff spot but were (finally) playing meaningful games down the stretch in August and September. If the Jays DID manage to make the playoffs in the next year or two, having a guy like Ortiz around would be more than valuable. Even Ryan Braun has been on the record saying that even though the Brewers made the playoffs in 2008 and practically everyone on the roster had little experience, that run helped them enormously in 2011.
Assuming Jose Molina doesn’t return next year, Ortiz would be the oldest player on the Jays’ 2012 roster with an Opening Day age of 36. On a Jays squad that had an average age of 27 last season, it wouldn’t hurt to have a veteran presence around all the time.
But outside of Big Papi’s bat, veteran presence, postseason experience, and apparent closeness with Bautista, there’s one aspect above all others that would make him a great fit with the Jays: he rakes against AL East opponents, and absolutely mashes at Rogers Centre.
Over his career, Ortiz has obviously played most of his games at Fenway Park; 671 to be exact. In the 2871 plate appearances he’s amassed in Boston, he has a career average of .310 with a .996 OPS. That’s the equivalent of over four full seasons played at Fenway Park, having gotten on base over 40 percent of the time! Ortiz’s next-favorite park to hit at? You guessed it, Rogers Centre.
In 352 at-bats (403 plate appearances), Ortiz has a career slash line at Rogers Centre of .270/.357/.597, with 28 doubles and 29 home runs. In fact, he has hit more doubles and home runs at the Dome more than any other park in the Majors. Plus, he has a career .977 OPS and second-most 25 home runs at Tropicana Field, .855 OPS at Yankee Stadium, and .832 OPS at Camden Yards. When the Jays played nearly half of their schedule against AL East opponents — 72 games to be exact — Big Papi could seriously help the team improve in those games.
Now, again, for the critics or those skeptical to cite career numbers, Ortiz has had an OPS of at least 1.091 at Rogers Centre in each of the last two seasons, at least .933 at Fenway, and .913 at Yankee Stadium. He did struggle at the Trop this past season after raking there in 2010, but he also improved at Camden Yards this season to the tune of a .400 average and .904 OPS as well.
With Ortiz, it really comes down to the contract value and length, and whether the Sox offer him arbitration or not. Given that he turns 36 years old next month, he might be more inclined to sign a two-year contract, or even be open to incorporating options somewhere in his contract. He’s coming off a five-year deal with Boston where he made an average annual salary of $12.9 million, so it would be hard to see him taking a drastic pay cut on his next contract.
There’s also the Edwin Encarnacion factor who, up until talks of Ortiz, had virtually locked up the DH role in 2012. The Jays own a $3.5 million club option on him for next season with a $500k buyout, and considering the fact that El Fuerte hit .291/.382/.504 in the second half for the Jays with 11 home runs, 34 walks, and 36 RBIs, it’s not only a steal of a salary, but it would be intriguing to see Encarnacion’s production over an entire season of full-time at-bats.
At the end of the day, though, if the price and length are right, how could the Jays not want to sign Ortiz? His proven track record against the teams the Jays struggle against, not to mention his bat and veteran presence, would do wonders for a young Jays team next season.