It’s been clear for weeks now that David Ortiz‘s scorching hot bat would carry him to the 500 home run milestone before the end of the season. Now that the Boston Red Sox slugger has finally gained access to this exclusive club, the question turns to how many homers he will end up with in his illustrious career.
Some hitters approaching a significant milestone struggle once they are on the verge of achieving it. It can get in their heads, resulting in them pressing too much to push for that goal rather than following their typical approach at the plate. Once Ortiz was on the doorstep, he didn’t wait around long. Two plate appearances later he joined Albert Pujols as the only players ever to hit career home run No. 499 and 500 in the same game.
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The pair of homers Saturday night gave Ortiz 5 already this month. We aren’t even halfway through September yet, so it’s within reason to believe that before the season ends we could see Ortiz climb the list even further. Eddie Murray is next in his sights at 504, so that’s within reach. Even at the pace he has been on lately, it will be difficult for him to catch Gary Sheffield at 509 over the next few weeks, but he’ll almost certainly get there next season. That would put him in the top-25 on the all-time list.
Ortiz’s contract option vested for 2015 once he passed 475 plate appearances this season, so we know he’ll be back for at least one more. How many more years does he have left in the tank? Hard to say, but the 39-year old is showing no signs of slowing down. He has topped 30 home runs nine times since joining the Red Sox in 2003, including each of the last three seasons. As uncanny as it seems for a man his age to defy the aging curve, we also must factor in that Ortiz has spent the majority of his career as a designated hitter, which has allowed him to preserve his body from the wear and tear that most players endure from playing the field every day.
The closest comparable to an elite hitter that was primarily a DH would be Edgar Martinez. The Seattle Mariners legend remained one of the game’s best through his age 40 season, posting a 141 OPS+ and belting 24 home runs. His final season came a year later, when his production fell to a slightly below-average 92 OPS+ at age 41.
If Ortiz follows a similar path then we can expect that he has at least one more year left of hitting at this level. Health permitting, he could make another run at a 30-homer campaign in 2016, while making enough plate appearances to lock in an option for another year. Even if he were to begin to tail off a bit in 2017, he could still add another 50+ home runs to his resume between now and the end of that season. This would put him within range of catching former teammate Manny Ramirez (555) for 15th on the all-time list.
This would vault Ortiz over several prominent Hall of Famers, including Ted Williams (521) and Mickey Mantle (536). As long as he stays healthy, it’s hard to imagine him not surpassing those legends over the next two years.
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Can Ortiz play three more seasons? It would be asking a lot to consider him hitting at this level through his age 42 season, but it’s not unfathomable with the way he’s been going the past few seasons. With three more relatively productive seasons, Ortiz could make a push to catch Mark McGwire (583) for 10th place on the all-time list. Granted, Pujols will likely beat him there given that he’s four years younger and 55 homers ahead of Ortiz already. If Ortiz wants to end his career as one of the 10 best home run hitters of all time, he’ll need to aim for Frank Robinson (586).
Is 600 home runs out of the question? Probably, unless Ortiz plans on playing until he’s 45. There is some precedence for Ortiz hitting over 100 home runs in a two-year span. He hit a combined 101 homers from 2005-2006, but that was a decade ago. Unless he has one more monster season like that, he’s going to need at least three more seasons of cranking out 30-homer seasons to even come close.
When Ortiz’s career inevitably winds down at some point he will be remembered as one of the game’s most feared power hitters. How far he climbs on the all-time home run list will depend on how many years he continues to play, but he’s not ready to stop yet. Given the way he’s been hitting lately, he won’t be stopping anytime soon.