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There is no alternative to David Ortiz

10.25.12 at 6:56 pm ET
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David Ortiz continues to rank among the most productive hitters in the game. (AP)

Want to know why the Red Sox and David Ortiz are steamrolling so simply towards an agreement on a contract? The answer is simple. He verges on irreplaceable, and his body of work in the batter’s box continues to make him a relative bargain on a two-year deal.

At the time of his Achilles injury early in the second half, Ortiz was amidst one of the finest — indeed, potentially the best — season of his career. In 90 games this year, he hit .318 with a .415 OBP, .611 slugging mark and 1.026 OPS along with 23 homers, 26 doubles and 60 RBI. He was on pace for ridiculous totals, with 162-game projections of 41 homers, 47 doubles.

By way of comparison, here’s what Tigers superstar Miguel Cabrera did this year: 161 games, .330 average, .393 OBP, .606 slugging, .999 OPS, 44 homers, 40 doubles. In other words, if one embraces OBP and slugging as better indicators of player performance than average, homers and RBIs, Ortiz was having a better year than the man who won the first Triple Crown since Carl Yastrzemski. Moreover, given that Ortiz tends to see power surges in the second half, there’s a fighting chance that, had opponents continued to pitch to him (it’s questionable whether he’d have seen a strike after the Dodgers blockbuster), Cabrera wouldn’t have won the Triple Crown.

How about the other players widely viewed as the top offensive players in the American League? Mike Trout, if projected over a 162-game season, would have hit .326/.399/.564/.963 with 35 homers, nine triples and 31 doubles. (He’d also have been in line for 57 steals…probably finishing ahead of Ortiz in that category.) Josh Hamilton stayed off the DL and played 148 games during which he hit .285/.354/.577/.930 with 43 homers and 31 doubles.

In a nutshell, a case can be made that Ortiz was having a more dominant offensive season than anyone else in the American League.

But what about through a broader lens? How does Ortiz, who will enter his age 37 season in 2013, stack up against players over multiple seasons at this stage of his career?

Even if one focuses solely on Ortiz starting after 2007 — the last of the five straight years in which he was a top-five AL MVP candidate — he remains elite. Through the magic of baseball-reference.com, here’s a look at where Ortiz ranks in OPS, OBP and slugging since 2008, a period that represents his age 32-36 (post-prime) seasons:

So, during a five-year stretch that included his “struggles” on the way back from injury in 2008, the worst year of Ortiz’s career (2009) as well as an awful start to the 2010 season, Ortiz has numbers that compare favorably with several of the best-compensated players in the game, including Ryan Howard, Alex Rodriguez, Carlos Gonzalez, Mark Teixeira, Joe Mauer, Adrian Gonzalez and others. Of the nine players with higher OPSes over the last five years, only Lance Berkman (who earned $12 million on a one-year deal in 2012) was playing on a shorter-term deal than the two years Ortiz covets.

Put simply, there are few players whom the Sox can pursue who would be able to replicate Ortiz’s production — particularly given that the production is likely to come on fairly favorable terms. It is notable that Josh Hamilton is ahead of Ortiz in terms of OPS and slugging numbers over the last five years — but he’s only slightly ahead of him, and he’s likely to command twice the years and annual salary of the Red Sox DH. Mike Napoli (.879 OPS over the last five years) and Kevin Youkilis (.897 OPS since 2008) also have posted numbers that rank them among the top middle-of-the-order hitters in the majors in recent years, but whereas Ortiz is coming off three straight All-Star seasons, Youkilis and Napoli are both coming off seasons that rank among the worst of their careers.

The Sox insist that they will remain disciplined in using their new-found financial flexibility. The opportunities to sign free agents who have delivered consistently elite production to such deals almost never are available. Even a multi-year deal for Ortiz represents, based on his track record, about as disciplined an expenditure as a team can make.

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