The Boston Red Sox announced today that they will pick up the $12.5 million option on David Ortiz for the 2011 season.

The move gives the Red Sox the premier DH in baseball but at a price likely above what they want to pay.

Ortiz, 34, had a strong 2010 season in which he batted .270 with 32 home runs and 102 RBI. His OPS was an impressive .899, and he was voted to his sixth All-Star team.

It was a great rebound year for Ortiz, who in 2009 was on the verge of being released midseason after struggling to hit his first home run. He still managed to slug 28, but the signs of his decline could not be ignored.

But somehow he’s back in Boston for his 15th season. Are the Red Sox going to regret this?

On the surface, no. Ortiz is still one of the best hitters in the game, as long as he doesn’t have to face left-handed pitching. His career-adjusted OPS of 134 ties him with Mark Teixeira and places him above guys like Jose Canseco, Tony Gwynn and Wade Boggs.

But at his age, how long can he keep it up?

If 2011 is finally the season in which Ortiz hits a wall and isn’t able to climb over it, the Red Sox are going to be in a major hole. Not only will they be out $12.5 million, but they’ll also have to try to contend without a true middle-of-the-order bat.

Boston could have easily found a DH to replace Ortiz for a fraction of the cost. Adam Dunn, still only 30 years old, would’ve been a great option. Lance Berkman and Carlos Pena could also have been had for a reasonable price. 

There is no way a 34-year-old left-handed hitter who can’t play the field is worth $12.5 million. If the Red Sox declined the option, then Ortiz would have been lucky to get a two-year deal for $15 million on the free agent market. So why bring him back?

The answer, it seems, is loyalty. Terry Francona loves his players, and there’s no doubt that Ortiz is a great clubhouse presence. The Red Sox have the financial power to overpay certain players. But might that extra $5 million or so been better spent re-signing Adrian Beltre or maybe even signing Adrian Gonzalez to a long-term contract if Boston can acquire him?

If Ortiz reproduces his 2010 season, then GM Theo Epstein can breathe a sigh of relief. But if Ortiz regresses, then the Red Sox will have to scramble to replace his bat.

Picking up his option was a risky decision. If Ortiz can’t produce, then it’s going to turn into a very bad one.

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