David Ortiz: a vital cog and an institution

David Ortiz, signed up to watch his own home runs for another season.

The last time the Boston Red Sox saw a player negotiation reach the arbitrator’s desk was 2002, when the team won their negotiation with pitcher Rolando Arrojo. He went 4-3 that season, pitching mostly out of the bullpen when he wasn’t hurt, and was let go at the end of the season. It was about as unmemorable a year as a pitcher can have.

Today, Boston almost went to their first arbitration hearing in a decade with David Ortiz. The designated hitter was reportedly looking for north of $16.5 million, while the Red Sox were about $4 million below that.

But the streak continues. Early this morning, Ortiz and the Red Sox split the difference, and for a mere $14.575 million, Big Papi will be the DH for the 2012 Sox.

It’s also an increasingly rare outcome: one that’s good for both the baseball operations department and the screaming, ticket-buying fan base.

The rational side of me understands the ramifications of a one-year contract. The Red Sox aren’t locked in longer than they’re comfortable, and are comfortable with any potential downside to this arrangement next season. The less rational side, of course, was pushing for both sides to come to terms on a two-year deal that could at least let me rest easy knowing Ortiz will remain in Boston, with one less winter to fret about any departures.

But that’s the crux of the fan versus the cold analyst. And it’s a struggle I go through daily, tempering the raging 10-year-old fan within with the cold, bloodless writer I’ve grown into, trying to find a space for the two to reconcile.

This signing helps in that process. The pressing matter of Ortiz’s value to the current team is easy; he’s the best solution at DH, and with an average of 30 home runs, a .272 batting average and a 130 OPS+ the past three seasons, he’ll more than carry his weight with the team.

And for the fan, Ortiz gets another shot at staying in Boston. Like Robert Parish and the Golden State Warriors, or Lou Brock and the Chicago Cubs, no one save for Terry Ryan seems to remember or care that David Ortiz spent the beginning of his major league career with the Minnesota Twins. There’s a romantic side to his remaining in Boston.

Today, both parties agreed on a contract that keeps the player happy, makes the team stronger in the middle of the lineup and maintains the institution of Big Papi and Fenway Park. It’s an endangered scenario where the player, team and fans all come away a winner, one thankfully not yet extinct.

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