Griffin: Jays to explore possibility of David Ortiz
Jays' general manager Alex Anthopoulos calls it "doing his due diligence" and it's the important process of exploring all available avenues for improving the baseball team that, this winter, according to one source, will include at least discussing the possibility of signing free agent designated hitter David Ortiz, after Big Papi declares his free agency with this year's class in the second week of November.
Ortiz, 35, batted .309 with 29 home runs and 96 RBIs for the Red Sox in 2011. He was in the final season of a five-year contract that paid him $12.5 million in '11. Ortiz, who has played just 39 games in the field, at first base, in the past seven years, has hit 378 career homers, with a .283 batting average and a .922 OPS since debuting with the Twins in '97.
The Red Sox, after the departure of former GM Theo Epstein and with the recent disappointments of Carl Crawford and John Lackey, are expected to be very careful in free agency this off-season, according to club executive Larry Lucchino.
Ortiz has talked about his desire to re-sign with the Red Sox, but on another front has backed off of earlier talk about being interested in the Yankees. Ortiz knows Jays manager John Farrell from his four seasons as the Sox' pitching coach. He knows and likes Jose Bautista, a fellow Dominican, and Big Papi hand-selected him to round out the AL team for the 2011 home run derby this summer at the All-Star Game in Phoenix.
Anthopoulos is known for his thorough preparation. He will likely speak to Ortiz' agent on a preliminary, exploratory basis when the free agent season opens 15 days from the end of the World Series. However, Anthopoulos will not let himself become involved in a bidding war where he chases any free agent and is used to ratchet up bids from other teams.
The Jays' modus operandi under the third year GM is to set an internal value on a player and to not outbid themselves, the style of negotiation that came into play with Cuban lefthanded defector Aroldis Chapman. Ownership had approved additional money for the international free agent, but when the Reds upped the ante, Anthopoulos backed off.
The issue with Ortiz is that the Jays would prefer that Bautista, who will earn $14 million in 2012, remain the highest paid position player on the team. It's likely, also, that off of his outstanding season as the Red Sox DH that Ortiz would look for a raise, since the general impression around baseball was that he gave the Red Sox a hometown discount when he signed a five-year deal prior to the team's second World Series run in 2007.
If Ortiz insists on a healthy raise and with this his last chance at a big contract, if he wants three or more guaranteed seasons at more than $13 million, chances are that the Jays would pass. But if Ortiz finds the open free-agent market not as lucrative as he had hoped with the interest not as strong as he believes, the Jays might then enter the picture late as a developing contender with some familiar faces.
The Jays' primary designated hitter right now must be considered to be Edwin Encarnacion who has a club option year for 2012 at $3.5 million. The Jays have not announced whether they are going to pick it up, but the likelihood is good after the strong second half posted by the 28-year-old who hit .272 overall with 17 homers and 55 RBIs.
The caveat for Jays' ownership in pursuing Ortiz was the signing several years ago of DH Frank Thomas, who was approaching 500 home runs and had just come off a season with Oakland that re-established his credentials as a power threat. He reached his milestone homer in a Jays uniform but was released part way into his second season. The odds of the Jays ever reaching agreement with Ortiz remain slim.