Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Is this Ortiz's last year on the Red Sox?

Sitting in the third-base dugout during last season's home run derby, Ortiz made it clear to the world that he wanted to avoid the situation he'll be facing this season.

So many times the hero for Boston,
this could be Papi's last season with them
2010 was the final year of the Red Sox hero's contract and the question lingered as to whether it would be his last in a Red Sox uniform. With that question came plenty of scrutiny and attention for the aging slugger, something that would only continue in 2011 if the Red Sox picked up his one-year $12.5 million contact option instead of giving him an extension.

"I don't want one year. Why should I return for one year and go through the same [stuff] I'm going through now, just because it's my last year?" said Big Papi before hitting 11 home runs in the final round to win the first Home-Run Derby of his career. "I like to be left alone when I'm playing baseball. I know how to clean my [stuff] up."

However, Ortiz didn't get his wish. The Sox picked up his option in November. Though Red Sox GM Theo Epstein said that Papi was, in the end, satisfied with that; he will once again be under the microscope in the 2011 season.

What hasn't helped Ortiz is his slow starts. In 2009, Papi went a career-high 149 at bats without a home run. For the first month of the season, Ortiz was hitting a measly .208 without a home run while striking out 30 times.

The slow start brought even more attention to the 2010 season. Papi was asked scrutinizing questions about his struggles even in spring training. When Ortiz went 0 for 3 in the season-opener against the New York Yankees, the questions about then 34 year-old Papi's decline started right back up again. It wasn't helped by the fact that Ortiz didn't deliver in all of April last season, hitting only .143 with one home run and four RBIs.

The sports-radio bashing started with some calling for Ortiz to be released. To the sensational media, Papi's decline wasn't in question, but rather affirmed. Fans started growing impatient, even booing the Boston hero at one point.

Papi will be 35 this season, the same age
as former-Red Sox slugger Mo Vaughn
 in his last year in the Majors
"For whatever reason, the last two years have been horrendous starts," said manager Terry Francona. "Thankfully he pulled out of it, but there's no getting around it, last April was awful. It was hard. You get through it; we had to fight our way through it at times. Thankfully we did, but it was hard. I lost a lot of sleep over it."

Similar to 2009, Ortiz's early-season slump turned out to be just that. Papi turned things around and ended the season with respectable numbers, hitting .270 with 102 RBIs and 32 home runs, the sixth time the slugger had hit over 30 in his career.

However, in 2011, Papi will have to prove the doubters wrong all over again. With Adrian Gonzalez now on the roster -- a power hitter in his prime whom many regard as the next generation's Big Papi -- this could realistically be Papi's last season, in a Sox uniform at least.

If Ortiz is going to make his case, he has to avoid an early season slump for the third year in a row.

"The biggest thing is if he goes 0 for 2 opening night against [Texas left-hander] C.J. Wilson and all you guys [reporters] are standing in front of his locker, then come into my office and ask if he's going to play," said Terry Francona.

It's hard not to pull for Ortiz after all of the times he's pulled through for the Red Sox. It'd almost seem a crime for him to don another uniform. Ortiz conquered the doubters in the last two seasons and Red Sox fans should be hoping he can do the same in 2011.

"I came out of a good season. I hit for power, knocked in runs," Ortiz told ESPNBoston's Jackie MacMullan. "I did what I was supposed to do. People want to say I'm declining. I don't feel that way."

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