For the last nine seasons, David Ortiz has been one of the most prolific hitters in baseball and the rock of the Boston Red Sox’ lineup. However, there hasn’t been much love for Big Papi on the free agent market. According to recent reports, the DH’s options seem limited to accepting arbitration or signing a discounted two-year deal with the Red Sox. If that really is the case, the Yankees should make him an offer he can’t refuse.
Brian Cashman has correctly identified pitching as the Yankees’ top priority. However, in the absence of attractive starting pitching on the market (at least not at a reasonable price), maybe that isn’t the best approach? After all, an alternative to preventing runs is scoring them, and adding Ortiz would certainly help the Yankees do just that.
With the exception of Don Baylor from 1983 to 1986, the Yankees have rarely had a full-time DH. Jorge Posada’s 90 games as a DH last year is surpassed by only seven other Yankees and ranks as the third highest total since 1991. So, if the team signed Ortiz, it would represent a philosophical reversal, especially for Joe Girardi, who has grown fond of using the DH as a “half day off” for his aging veterans.
Ironically, the man most likely to fill the DH slot for the Yankees in 2012 is 22-year old Jesus Montero. The most sensible objection to signing Ortiz is the negative impact it would have Montero’s playing time, but even that could be spun into a positive. Instead of settling on the rookie as a DH, the presence of Ortiz could force the Yankees to develop him more as a catcher, which, in the long run, would pay greater dividends.
In many ways, such an arrangement would mirror the approach the Yankees took with Jorge Posada during his first full season in 1997. That year, Posada played 60 games in the role of understudy to the veteran Girardi, who played 111. Such a split would also work perfectly for Montero and Russell Martin. In addition to giving the young catcher a chance to learn under the tutelage of a respected veteran, it would also reduce wear and tear on Martin.
Because Montero has so much potential with the bat, limiting him to 60 games could be counterproductive. One solution to that problem would be increasing his time behind the plate if he adapts well to being a major league catcher. Another option would be to give him spot starts in right field or make him Ortiz’ replacement against tough lefties. Finally, even if Montero only started 60 games, it would give the Yankees’ an impact pinch hitter, and in that role, the young catcher could easily amass 60-80 additional at bats. However, even if Montero does wind up with only about 250 plate appearances, is that so bad? It would be wildly optimistic to assume he’d immediately produce at the same level of Ortiz, so the Yankees would probably be better off easing Montero into a full-time role. Not only would that help the rookie transition to the big leagues, it would also lessen the Yankees’ exposure to his growing pains.
Aside from limiting Montero’s role, having Ortiz as a full-time DH would also prevent Joe Girardi from using it to provide rest to players like Derek Jeter and Alex Rodriguez, but, should that really be a concern? At this point, Ortiz looks to be the more potent offensive player, so losing their bats to an off day wouldn’t be as costly. Furthermore, both Jeter and Arod could be reaching a stage in their respective careers when having a full day off would be preferable to only half. As long as the Yankees can keep both players healthy enough to play 120-130 games each on the left side of the infield, it shouldn’t matter if they lose 10-plus games as DH. On the contrary, the team, and the players, would probably be better off as a result.
Finally, an external, but no less important, benefit to signing Ortiz would be the negative impact it would have on the Red Sox. Losing Big Papi’s bat would not only leave a hole in the Boston lineup, but it would also kick one more leg of stability out from under a franchise that has endured a very turbulent offseason. With a volatile manager like Bobby Valentine leading the team, having a unifying forced like Ortiz could help lighten the mood in what will likely be a more intense Red Sox clubhouse in 2012. In more ways than one, Ortiz has provided protection for the rest of the Boston lineup, so should he depart, several others would be asked to shoulder the load. Conversely, Ortiz’ presence in the Bronx could have the opposite effect on the Yankees’ clubhouse, especially considering the friendships he has with players like Arod and Robinson Cano, which should help smooth over the transition.
Ortiz only fits into the Yankees’ plans on a short-term basis, but all indication suggest he won’t be offered more than a two-year deal. That’s why Brian Cashman shouldn’t let the Red Sox benefit from a limited market for the slugger. Besides, even if the Yankees can’t lure him away, they can at least make Boston pay more, in both dollars and years.
Over the years, the Yankees have reaped the rewards of rivalry crossovers. Starting with Babe Ruth and most recently continuing to Wade Boggs, Roger Clemens, and Johnny Damon, several former Red Sox stars have come to the Bronx and helped the Yankees win championships. Could Ortiz be next?