On David Ortiz And The Seattle Mariners

Friends forever

In a lot of ways, this talk was inevitable. David Ortiz has long been considered among those who got away, as the Mariners traded a young Ortiz for Dave Hollins in 1996. Ortiz, obviously, wound up blossoming into one of the more productive and recognizable hitters in the league. Now, Ortiz is heading into free agency, and the Mariners are coming off a year in which they had baseball's worst offense, following a year in which they had baseball's worst offense. Of course people were going to want to talk about Ortiz. There could be a fit, and why not explore any fit?

Immediately, Ortiz seems like a healthy compromise between those who are all about Prince Fielder, and those who don't want to make a big commitment to a slugger without defensive value. Ortiz wouldn't require Fielder's nine-figure, long-term contract, because Ortiz is a pure DH who turns 36 in a month. With Ortiz, you're talking about one or two years, or maybe - maybe - three years, max. It's a lot easier to swallow.

And it's readily apparent what good he could do. Over the last ten years, Ortiz has had exactly one season in which he posted a sub-120 OPS+. That was in 2009. In the two years to follow, he posted a combined 145 OPS+. He's left-handed, he hits for power to all fields, he has a good approach, he just dramatically cut down on his strikeouts...Ortiz is one of those guys who can transform a lineup. Analytically, that doesn't mean a whole lot, but Ortiz's is a name that grabs the eyeballs.

Of course, we know that Ortiz could help the Mariners. That isn't the issue. The issue is whether he'd be worth the investment, and whether he'd even be willing to sign with Seattle in the first place. It's kind of up to him, after all.

What kind of contract could Ortiz be looking for? What kind of contract could Ortiz end up settling for? That's hard to predict. On the one hand, he's coming off a $12.5 million salary, and he had a fantastic offensive season. He's probably going to want at least that much money. But on the other hand, the pool of potential suitors is limited. Alex Speier posted a great rundown this morning, which you can read here. There aren't going to be a lot of teams in the market for a big-time DH. The Red Sox are the biggest potential suitor, but behind them, it's thin, so Ortiz could end up getting paid less than he wants.

He's not going to be cheap, though. He's unlikely to sign the Hideki Matsui contract(s). He'd cost the bulk of what the Mariners will have available. This is a DH who'll be 36 (and a half!) next April. Are the Mariners one David Ortiz away from contention? No, probably not. And then there's the matter of Mike Carp, who'd be blocked at DH. Carp isn't exactly a guy the Mariners ought to be planning around right now, but it's a consideration. If the Mariners were to sign Ortiz, what would they do with Carp? Is this a road down which they ought to travel?

And then there's the matter of Ortiz's preference. If the Mariners end up interested in Ortiz, they won't be the only team interested in Ortiz. Why would Ortiz want to sign with them instead of somebody else? Sure, they could offer money, and he's good friends with Felix. But Ortiz presumably wants to win, and the Mariners just finished with the AL's second-worst record. It's a tough sell. Maybe Ortiz would jump at the chance to play in a zero-pressure environment, I don't know, but he probably wants a good shot at the playoffs, and it might take extra money to convince him that Seattle's where he should go. Extra money of which the Mariners don't have a ton - extra money that might be better spent elsewhere.

Everything above seems kind of disconnected. It's Friday afternoon, and I hate writing on Friday afternoons, because my brain doesn't work very well. Hopefully, all of my thoughts came across. In conclusion, with Ortiz, I'm very much open to the idea, but not at a high price, because he's an aging DH and the Mariners only have so much money to spend. And if it were to take a high price to lure Ortiz to Seattle, well, obviously it depends on the specifics, but that seems like a deal-breaker. Signing Ortiz to an expensive two- or three-year contract doesn't seem like the kind of move this team should make.

Interestingly, Jim Thome mentioned in September that he'd like to play again next season. Thome got a base salary of $1.6 million in 2010, and $3 million in 2011. He's going to be a free agent. I have no idea if Thome would be willing to play on the west coast, and I have no idea what kind of market there will be for his services, but he's an appealing idea. He'd be affordable, he'd offer an approximation of what Ortiz can do, and he wouldn't be looking to play every day. He could start 80 or 90 or 100 games, leaving time for Carp if Carp were still around. I'm not going to sit here and pursue this any further, but it's a possibility.

Anyway. This upcoming Mariners offseason is impossible to predict. It's impossible to predict because there are so many different ways the front office could go. But it sure is fun to think about some of the options.

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