|Frank Thomas on David Ortiz and the DH market: ‘That’s just the way they treat DHs’||07.10.12 at 7:11 pm ET|
KANSAS CITY — If anyone understands the rare ground occupied by David Ortiz, it’s Frank Thomas.
For almost two decades, Thomas enjoyed a run as one of the dominant hitters in the game, an elite power hitter who put up big numbers through his late 30s. The Big Hurt had a 42-homer season as a 35-year-old in 2006 and a 39-homer campaign at age 38 in 2006, remaining a game-changing force even as a full-time DH in the latter half of his career. And so, he can relate to Ortiz, a player who likewise continues to be a middle-of-the-order masher well past an age where it would be fair to expect such performances.
“Without a doubt, [Ortiz is] the premier DH in baseball. It’s a hard, tough position. He’s handled it unbelievably,” said Thomas, who also lauded Ortiz for his physical commitment to conditioning. “It’s tough to DH. It’s a mindset that you have to keep yourself involved in the ballgame. I know that when I was a DH, my career batting average dropped, like, 20 points. It’s tough. But he’s figured it out.”
Yet even while Ortiz continues to produce, Thomas said that it’s not surprising that the Red Sox have taken a year-to-year approach with him in contract talks. Though their situations weren’t perfect parallels, Thomas reached a point where injuries in 2004 and 2005 left the White Sox ready to move on from him; he ended up having to sign a one-year deal with the A’s, for whom he finished fourth-place in the AL MVP voting in 2006, before getting a two-year deal with the Blue Jays to finish his career.
“That’s just the way they treat DHes. The bottom line is, it’s a stalemate with DHes because we don’t play the field. We are counted on to carry a team offensively. It’s a weird position,” Thomas said of Ortiz. “If he continues to [perform], he’ll get a two-year deal, a three-year deal to close out his career probably.
“[But] once you reach 37, 38 – he’s got another year to go before that – you’re looked at as a liability because of your age. But he’s got a year with big bucks,” Thomas said, alluding to the fact that Ortiz has a one-year, $14.575 million contract. “Can’t be upset with that. He’s definitely making market value. Honestly, for him, I would continue to stay motivated that way, go year-to-year and keep letting [his salary] get bigger and bigger with one-year deals.”
(Caveat: In the world of the new Collective Bargaining Agreement, such performance-based raises are less likely. Indeed, it is entirely possible that the Red Sox will extend Ortiz a contract that would actually represent a pay cut.)
Thomas said that he understood the White Sox’ position and their reluctance to do what it took to retain him. (The team declined his one-year, $10 million option, instead buying him out of the final year of his deal in 2006 for $3.5 million. The A’s then signed him for just $500,000 for the 2006 season in which he enjoyed a renaissance.
“It’s all about age,” said Thomas. “The fame is there, everybody knows him, but the bottom line is that the money-making time in baseball is between 25 and 35. Once you’re older than that mark of 35, teams, that’s just the way they negotiate.
“My last couple years, I enjoyed it. I left Chicago, and I had to reinvent myself in Oakland. I did. I had one hell of a year, almost won MVP again, and really it paid for a two-year contract in Toronto when I was 38 years old. I was blessed, really blessed.”
After his big year in Oakland, Thomas was rewarded with a two-year, $18.12 million deal from the Blue Jays. Though declining, he remained a very productive hitter at age 39 in 2007 before his numbers nosedived as a 40-year-old in 2008, when he was released by the Blue Jays in the middle of the season. He was picked up by the A’s, where he enjoyed modest success as a part-timer down the stretch.
As he reflects on his contract situation as well as the stage where Ortiz finds himself, Thomas understands the financial realities that were and are in play. That said, it still puzzles him a bit why teams aren’t more willing to pay for elite offensive performance when a player has demonstrated mastery of being a DH.
“I think [the DH is undervalued],” said Thomas. “I think so, because it’s hard to find a guy who can handle that position day in and day out and put up those big numbers year-in, year-out. It’s a tough position.”
- Bradley: "Everything's back to normal"
- Cup of Coffee: PawSox, Drive produce walk-off wins
- PawSox activate Jackie Bradley, Jr. from disabled list
- Weekly Notes: De La Rosa, Betts take center stage
- Cup of Coffee: Shaw leads 18-hit attack in Sea Dogs rout
- Cup of Coffee: Gedman, big Salem seventh key system’s only win
- Christian Vazquez’s new focus at the plate starting to pay off
- Cup of Coffee: Augliera dominant in Salem victory
- Players of the Week, May 6-12: Rubby De La Rosa and Mookie Betts
- Cup of Coffee: Streaks continue for Mookie Betts, Chris Martin