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.