Stark: 'Free Agent Meter' is running

June, 10, 2011
In his most recent “Rumblings & Grumblings” piece,’s Jayson Stark looks at what he calls “This Winter’s Derek Jeters.” He says the players have two things in common: 1. They're players who embody the personalities of the teams they play for. And 2. They're playing out maybe the most important seasons of their lives because they're all just months away from spinning across that free-agent dance floor.

David Ortiz is one of them, and Stark looks at what way the free-agent meter is pointing:

The scouts who have been following him didn't need his bat-flip homer at Yankee Stadium to know which way Big Papi's meter is pointing: "He's back," one scout said. "He looks as good as he did four or five years ago. He's in better shape. He's running better. He's reading pitches well. He's hanging in there on left-handers. He's on a mission."

And that mission, Ortiz made clear to us earlier this year, is to stay in Boston because, he said, "I don't know anything but this." Oh, he was drafted by the Mariners. And he played parts of six seasons in Minnesota. But in Boston, he became Big Papi.

"So where could he walk and have that kind of impact?" one NL executive wondered. "He's Big Papi in Boston. Could he even be Big Papi in someplace like Seattle? He might not fit somewhere else."

So everyone we surveyed predicted Ortiz won't be going anywhere. He doesn't merely lead the Red Sox in home runs (15), on-base percentage (.394) and OPS (1.006) for the season. He leads the entire American League in homers, extra-base hits and slugging since May 1. When you add in the way he lights up his town and his clubhouse, it's as hard as ever to imagine the Red Sox without him. But that doesn't mean this won't be complicated.

Ortiz will turn 36 in November. And his team has mastered the art of the tough goodbye. If the Red Sox could draw the hard line with Johnny Damon or Pedro Martinez, they could do it with Big Papi. If he wants to keep earning the $13 million or so he's been collecting for the past five years and he wants more than a one- or two-year deal, he should recognize, one AL exec said, that "DHs don't get those contracts anymore."

So how do we read his Free Agent Meter? We think he'll be back. But he might have to do what Jason Varitek did -- accept less money and, more importantly, the reality that he might have to take on a lesser role down the trail if he wants to stay.

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