That should not have caused much of a stir. Ortiz was no star then and actually had been released five weeks earlier by the Twins. But nothing quite disturbed The Boss like Boston enlisting a player. He wanted a 50-man roster — 25 for his own and 25 to keep away from the Red Sox.
To that point, Yankee officials never had seriously considered Ortiz. They had Nick Johnson at first base, Jason Giambi as their DH and seemingly no role for another lefty swinger with no ability to play elsewhere.
BOSTON STRANGLER: David Ortiz, who was up for grabs in 2003, has become an all-time fan favorite at Fenway Park.
As Ortiz became the game’s No. 1 Yankee killer, however, a mythology arose in which Steinbrenner always wanted Ortiz. The Boss — a relentless second-guesser — fueled that story by turning merciless toward his GM as Ortiz became Big Papi in Boston.
For the first time since then, Ortiz could have been a free agent this past offseason. But sensing a lack of outside interest and/or wanting to stay in Boston, Ortiz accepted the Red Sox’s arbitration offer and ultimately signed a one-year, $14.575 million contract. He certainly was interested in the Yanks, if for nothing else, to potentially provide leverage against the Red Sox.
But when I asked Cashman yesterday if Ortiz ever was seriously discussed in the offseason, the answer was “no.”
Cashman cited “mainly financial reasons” for the disinterest. But also the Yanks wanted to use the DH role to preserve their older players. And Alex Rodriguez actually leads the Yanks in DH starts with nine — three more than Raul Ibanez, who was given what the Yanks allocated ($1 million) for the primary DH job.
Still, imagine what The Boss might be saying today, especially envisioning what Ortiz could still mean to the Yanks’ lineup? Because Ortiz is rivaling Derek Jeter for best work by a baseball senior citizen in reviving from what seemed like a baseball cemetery to reclaim prime production?
Consider that from 2007-09, Ortiz’s OPS dropped from 1.066 to .877 to .794. The Red Sox DH then began his age-34 season in 2010 with a .149 average and .598 OPS through May 4. Taps were all but being played in Boston for his career.
In the next 300 games, however, Ortiz hit .307 with 65 homers and a .966 OPS, which was fifth in the majors (minimum 1,000 plate appearances) behind only Miguel Cabrera (1.022), Jose Bautista (1.014), Josh Hamilton (.992) and Joey Votto (.983).
Bobby Valentine’s last-place Red Sox have endured many problems. Not Ortiz, whose 1.128 OPS was fourth in the majors (Jeter was fifth at 1.034). Both veterans are being elevated by mashing lefties: Jeter’s 1.471 OPS vs. southpaws led the AL while Ortiz’s 1.340 was second in the AL, but the next best by a lefty hitter in the majors was Joe Mauer’s 1.127.