David Ortiz: What might have been

David Ortiz, the former Minnesota Twin, provided the opportunity for Twins fans to wonder what might have been last week when he hit his 500th career home run, pretty much guaranteeing him a spot in the Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, N.Y..

That’s 442 home runs more than he hit for the team that gave up on him when it released him in December 2002.

Ortiz hasn’t forgotten that, judging by this profile on Derek Jeter’s “The Players Tribune” that was posted this morning.

Ortiz had a bad year in 2002 for the Twins and he was eligible for arbitration. The Twins released him to make room for shortstop Jose Morban, who never played a game for the Twins, and hit 2 home runs in his only season in the major leagues.

Ortiz then signed with the Red Sox, who paid him just $300,000 more than the Twins were paying him.

He finished fifth in the Most Valuable Player voting the next season.

  • blindeke

    I remember watching him hit in ’01. I really liked him. He was a lot like a LH Sano, very patient. The Twins should have been as patient!

  • John O.

    Obviously, in hindsight this is a “smh” moment for the Twins. On the other hand, his on the field speech after the Boston Marathon bombing (with an expletive) probably cemented his legacy in Boston forever.

  • ec99

    Calvin Griffith made “giving up” players because he was too cheap to pay them into a cottage industry: Bostock, Hisle, Carew, even the beloved Harmon.

    • Harmon, unfortunately, embarrassed himself by not knowing when it was time to go. I was as sad watching him struggle with the Royals as I was watching Willie Mays with the Mets.

    • Jim in RF

      Griffith sold the team in 1984, but this wasn’t about money.

      • frightwig

        I think the Twins released Ortiz partly because of money. After 2002, Ortiz was in his 2nd year of arbitration eligibility and projected to receive between $3-4 million if the Twins kept him the next year. Meanwhile, Matt LeCroy cost $312K in 2003, so cutting Ortiz saved them a few million dollars, back when their Opening Day payroll was just $55M (increased from $40M the year before). Money wasn’t the only reason, but I recall a lot of talk about it at the time.

  • Joe

    I like Big Papi. But I am always curious why he got a pass for his use of steroids while others were reviled. He did the same thing as ARod yet ARod is hated for it? I mean I personally don’t get the outrage for anybody, cause who cares if they used steroids. But for those who do hate it, why are they so selective?

  • Mike Worcester

    Ortiz has never won the MVP in large part because of his being a DH. Would that bias also potentially keep him from ending up in Cooperstown? The year Justin Morneau was the 2006 AL MVP, BoSox fans were livid about Ortiz being passed over.

    Having watched him with the Twins, it was certainly a frustration to this fan that he was being under-utilized (mis-utilized?). But that was the organizational philosophy.

  • frightwig

    As I recall, Ortiz was deemed expendable because he was a lefty DH, in a lefty-heavy lineup, who couldn’t hit left-handed pitching. In 2002, at age 26, he also had a monster July and a good August, but struggled the other 4 months of the season. Meanwhile, the Twins had Matt LeCroy, who was cheaper and right-handed–and in 2003 he actually did a fine job of replacing Ortiz’s production from the year before.

    It’s also worth remembering that Ortiz wasn’t exactly a hot item on the market after the Twins released him (because nobody wanted to trade for him). He floated around for a month before the Red Sox took a $1.2M flyer on him, bringing him in to compete for DH/1B time with Jeremy Giambi, Kevin Millar, Shea Hillenbrand, and Manny Ramirez. It’s interesting to look at the Red Sox lineup log at the start of the 2003 season; Ortiz wasn’t an everyday starter, and he showed up at 1B more often than DH until things shook out in late June. As it turned out, after a slow start in April, Ortiz really heated up in May-June that season, Jeremy Giambi fizzled, Shea Hillenbrand was traded, Millar settled at 1B and Ortiz at DH–and the rest is history.

    Obviously that move blew up on the Twins, but would his career have been the same if he never left Minnesota? Did the Twins give up on him too soon? He was not exactly a young prospect anymore, when the Twins let him go. And, after joining the Sox, Ortiz has credited the Boston hitting coach with changing his hands-positioning and encouraging him to let it fly, while blaming the Twins’ coaching for crimping his game. He’s also taken advantage of Fenway Park (.308/.405/.579 career in Fenway) much better than he did the Metrodome; his last season with the Twins, his road OPS was actually 56 points higher than at home. It’s possible that if the Twins had not released him, and he had not landed in Boston, Ortiz may not have reached his potential.

    • Mike

      You are right, he was not want at all after the Twins let him go and lucked out ending up in Boston. I personally don’t think we would be talking about him if he stayed in MN, or even ended up with most other teams. He was extremely benefited by the lineup around him and the home park.

      • He’s 39 years old now, he’s playing on a garbage team and he has 35 homers and an .886 ops. He played on a garbage team last year, hit 35 homers and has an .886 ops.

        In his last year with the Twins, a year in which he hurt his wrist, I believe, he put up an .839 Ops.

        THAT was a signal the Twins totally missed.

        • Mike

          I don’t disagree with what you have stated. IMO, I just think his historical statistics after leaving the Twins are inflated by the players around him (Ramirez), the style of baseball Boston played and Fenway. I think his last year with the Twins would have been the ceiling with the Twins, and today we would we saying ‘Yeah David Ortiz was OK when he was with the Twins’ but there would never be Subway or Dunkin Donut Commercials! I also feel this can be said about many players. There is a lot to be said for being in the right place at the right time and building up confidence in abilities. I have always wondered what would have happened if Mauer had jumped ship to Boston or New York…

          • Right, he acknowledges that, and specifically a moment when he played for Grady Little and there were men on base when he came up and he tried to move them over rather than let it rip. Little grabbed him when he came to the dugout.

            You’re right; he wouldn’t have had the same career in MN because he would’ve been required to play “the Twins way”. Everybody must assimilate.

        • frightwig

          He spent a few weeks on the DL in early 2002 because he hurt his knee. He broke his wrist the year before. When the Twins let him go, some were calling him “injury-prone.”

          • I haven’t done a BROCK2 on Ortiz through the time he was released, but I’d still bet that .839 Ops would get its attention.

          • Just did a BROCK2 on Ortiz’ Twins years. After the 2001 season — keeping in mind BROCK2 penalizes for injuries — it predicted Ortiz finish with 276 lifetime homers, and he’d hit 25-30 homers a year through age 33. Lifetime average about .260.

            After adding the 2002 season, this is what it predicted. It still saw a fulltime player hitting 27 homers a year, but his career would be shorter, no doubt because of his inability to stay healthy. But he was still predicted to play 140 games a year.

            That still seems like a pretty good return on $1.2 million.

  • “The Twins messed up with David Ortiz” is becoming my favorite annual Newscut post.

    • You know Boston build an entire cottage industry and marketing campaign around trading Babe Ruth for the cash for No No Nanette.

      You’d think Minnesota would recognize the opportunity.

      • We could start a rumor that the reason Papi rakes at Target Field is because a construction worker buried an Oritz jersey in the outfield.