David Ortiz will turn 40 years old in November, but retirement isn’t on his mind. Not yet anyway. In case there were any ideas that the aging veteran’s career was winding down, Ortiz made it clear that he will return to the Boston Red Sox next season.
A double that was smoked all the way to the 420-foot mark in dead center in the second inning of Saturday night’s game in Detroit marked Ortiz’s 425th plate appearance of the season, triggering his $11 million option for 2016 to automatically vest. As soon as he hit it, Ortiz knew that it meant more than just putting himself in position to score the game’s first run. It put him in position to lock in another year to his prolific career.
"“It means I’m going to be here next year,” Ortiz told reporters in the clubhouse after the game. “Nothing different. When I signed this contract, I think as you’re getting older you’ve got to earn things. Different than just getting away with things when you are younger.“We agreed on that. I think I earned it, and come back next year.”"
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The Red Sox wisely structured Ortiz’s contract to protect against the risk of him breaking down or having his production fall off a cliff. He would still be paid like the star he has always been, as long as he continued to earn enough plate appearances to warrant it.
Ortiz is now guaranteed $11 million for the 2016 season, with the contract increasing in $1 million intervals if Ortiz reaches 475, 500, 525, 575 and 600 plate appearances. If he achieves each of these milestones he can earn as much as $16 million, which would match his salary from this season.
Ortiz understands why the team wanted to structure his contract this way and he’s on board with it.
"“I don’t want to put the team on the spot,” said Ortiz. “I don’t want to put myself on the spot, either. That’s why we agreed to that, and I think it’s fair.”"
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There may be a little added incentive for Ortiz to want to play another season. Last night he belted the 489th home run of his career, putting him within striking distance of joining the exclusive 500 home run club. While Ortiz claims he’s trying not to think about it, you have to believe it’s an accomplishment he fiercely desires now that he is so close. The effect it would have on his legacy and his chances of getting into the Hall of Fame make it worth chasing, but it won’t be easy to accomplish this goal by the end of this year.
Ortiz needs 11 more home runs to reach 500. He is currently on pace for 34 home runs this season, which would put him at exactly 500. Over the past five seasons he has only hit 11 home runs in August and September combined once, and he already has 3 in August so far. He has hit at least 9 home runs during those two months in that span, except for 2012 when he finished the year on the disabled list.
Watching Ortiz chase 500 home runs is one of the great reasons to continue watching this Red Sox team during a lost season. There’s a chance he could do it this year, but if he falls short then it will only serve as more motivation to come back strong for one more season. Ortiz has a similarly structured option for 2017, so perhaps he’ll find the motivation for more than one more.
While Ortiz is getting older, he shows no signs of slowing down. He has recovered from a slow start to post the type of number we are accustomed to seeing from him. Since the All-Star break he is hitting .301/.382/.671 with 8 home runs in 79 at-bats.
Ortiz leads the team with 23 home runs and 65 RBI this season, both of which put him 12th in the league. He is also 20th in the league with a .823 OPS.
While he may take a little longer to get going at his age, eventually Ortiz heats up and starts feasting on opposing pitchers again. We are seeing it happen now, and because of that, we’ll get to see it again next year.