Big Papi Powering His Own Future

This post first appeared on BaseballDigest.com

On April 30th of this year, David Ortiz saw his batting average drop to a season low .143 to go along with just one home run on the season. Terry Francona had already begun lifting Big Papi from games and making switches that best suited the team. It appeared that the great slump of 2009 had reared its ugly head yet again in 2010. It seemed absolutely certain that the slump of 2009 was not an aberration, but a glimpse at what the future held for Big Papi’s career.

Nearly two and a half months later, pictures of David Ortiz’s home run swing are splashed across newspapers and baseball websites everywhere as he dominated the 2010 Home Run Derby with 32 home runs over the three rounds to defeat Florida Marlins slugger Hanley Ramirez.

How did Big Papi get here? Simply put, he responded to an early season benching by Terry Francona the same way he responded following being benched in 2009 when he struggled; he began hitting again. Unlike his prolonged slump of 2009, David Ortiz turned things around this season with force.

During the month of May, David Ortiz raised his season average by more than a hundred points, and raised his slugging percentage by nearly two hundred points. Hitting .363(with a .788 slugging percentage) had everything to do with it. Entering May, he had just one home run and four runs batted in. Entering June, he had eleven home runs and 37 runs batted in.

Though the big lefty slugger struggled in the first half of June, he has shown that Big Papi is back in a big way. From June 15th through the end of the first half, he had a batting average of .294 with 6 homers and 18 RBI in 22 games. For the first time since the 2007 season, David Ortiz is on pace for more than 35 homers and 100 runs batted in on the season.

For the second half of the season, he will face the question of whether or not there is a Home Run Derby Effect that saps his power numbers the rest of the way. If he maintains his pace that started off with a hot month of May, he may prove that the Derby Effect doesn’t strike everyone that participates.

Something else that will undoubtedly rear its head during the second half of the season and into the off-season is the question of whether or not the “Greatest Clutch Hitter in the History of the Boston Red Sox” will be able to reach a deal on a possible contract extension, since the slugger has a $12 million dollar team option for the 2011 season.

As reported by ESPN.com, David Ortiz has expressed an interest in signing an extension rather than playing out 2011 on the one year option. The crux of the debate is whether or not Ortiz would garner a multi-year contract in addition to or rather than the option being picked up at season’s end. Over the last few years, Vladimir Guerrero and Hideki Matsui have reached one year deals with their teams that came way short of Ortiz’s current salary of $13 million. Though Matsui is hitting a pedestrian .257 with 10 homers, Vlad Guerrero may find himself in a better situation as he signed a one year, $6.5 million dollar deal with the Texas Rangers and entered the All-Star break with 20 homers on the season.

The market for sluggers may change depending on the availability of Adrian Gonzalez and Prince Fielder, in addition to Vlad Guerrero and Hideki Matsui. Though David Ortiz is a full decade older than Prince Fielder and 8 years older than Adrian Gonzalez, the option to resign the slugger may make more long term sense than some realize.

As a team that prides itself in developing players within their organization, the Red Sox will likely look at a number of their current players when they lay out a long term plan. For instance, the Red Sox could consider Victor Martinez as the current solution for the every day catcher’s position(when healthy) and look at him as an option at the designated hitter position in the near future. In the meantime, David Ortiz could be a viable option to remain at the DH position for 2011 and beyond. In the last calendar year, Big Papi has slugged 34 home runs in 143 games, to go along with a .906 ops. Since the start of the 2009 season, he has failed to slug at least 6 homers in a month just three times. Of course, these three months also coincide with the slumps of 2009 and 2010.

The bigger question that remains to be answered is how long beyond 2011 will Ortiz be a viable option. If there is anything to be gleaned from the 2010 Home Run Derby, it’s that David Ortiz will surprise many simply by powering his way past the opposition. Like his early slumps over the last two seasons, there is little doubt that he will find a way to motor on and continue slugging long impressive home runs like he did last night in Anaheim, California.

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