The general assumption is that free agent slugger David Ortiz will only get offers from American League teams this winter. He hasn’t played more than 10 games at first base since the 2004 season, and even then he had poor range defensively.
But what if Ortiz commits to getting in great shape over the offseason, a la Lance Berkman, and attempts to turn himself into an everyday fielder?
Would National League teams sacrifice the defense to add a middle-of-the-order bat like Big Papi’s?
Nick Cafardo of the Boston Globe spoke to several talent evaluaors and front office executives from both sides of the baseball universe, and a couple of them were optimistic about the idea. From an NL East GM:
“I think more and more teams will look into it. To have that kind of bat in the middle of an NL lineup at relatively short years and money for that type of production might be worth the deficiency you’d have at first base. You could always replace him in the late innings. I think he can handle the position in terms of balls hit at him. It’s just the range would be limited. Teams have those types of players even now.”
From an unnamed American League team president:
“You’d have to know he could make the routine play, catch the ball, and you’d have to be able to live with limited range and that most of the time he’s not going to save your infielders from errors on bad throw. If you can live with it and you feel the upside with his power far surpasses the defensive deficiencies, then you take the gamble. And there’s always the possibility that the more comfortable he gets out there, the better he’ll be.’’
Without a reliable sample size, defensive metrics rating Ortiz’s more recent play at first base can’t really be trusted. So there’s no way to predict or quantify whether the dip in defense could be made up at the plate.
Our initial thought is that it would be too risky to even try, but what if the American League market for Ortiz isn’t producing big bids? If the salary commitment is low enough, the notion gets a little less frightening.
On Sunday, we heard from former Ray and current Giants third baseman Evan Longoria. The Rays recently traded pitcher Jake Odorizzi to the Twins for a prospect and designated All-Star outfielder Corey Dickerson for assignment, which didn’t make a whole lot of sense outside of a cost-cutting perspective. Longoria said, “I just kind of feel sorry for the Rays fan base.”
Today, we’re hearing from a current Ray: center fielder Kevin Kiermaier, who is set to enter his fifth full season with the club. Via Marc Topkin of the Tampa Bay Times, Kiermaier said, “I am 100 percent frustrated and very upset with the moves. No beating around the bush. It’s one of those things that makes you scratch your head, you don’t know the reasoning why. And then you see the team’s explanation and still it’s just like, okay, well, so be it.”
Longoria — formerly the face of the franchise — was traded to the Giants in December and the Rays continued to subtract with their recent moves involving Odorizzi and Dickerson. Odorizzi has a career 3.83 ERA in what has been a solid, if unspectacular, career. Dickerson put up an All-Star season, posting an .815 OPS with 27 home runs in 150 games. Moving either player was not done to fix a positional log jam. In fact, with Odorizzi out of the picture, the Rays are planning to use a four-man starting rotation for the first six-plus weeks of the season, Topkin reported on Sunday. Dickerson’s ouster simply opens the door for Mallex Smith, who posted a .684 OPS last year, to start every day in the outfield.
The Rays got markedly worse after going 80-82 last season. They saved a few million bucks jettisoning Odorizzi and Dickerson. And Rays ownership still wants the public to foot most of the bill for their new stadium.
When it was just one small market team pinching pennies, it was fine. But now that more than half of the league has adopted penny-pinching principles popularized by Moneyball and Sabermetrics (with the Rays among the chief offenders), the game of baseball has become markedly less fan- and player-friendly. This offseason has been less about players signing contracts and changing teams in trades — which helps build excitement and intrigue for the coming year — and more about front offices doing math problems concerning the $197 million competitive balance tax threshold and other self-imposed monetary restraints. Fun. Kiermaier is right to be upset and he’s very likely not alone in feeling that way.