He was over the hill. He couldn’t hit without Manny behind him. He’s older than he lets on. He was on steroids. The injuries got to him. Even some Fenway Faithful began calling him “Big Pop-up.” Then, all of a sudden, David Ortiz started to hit again. The past two years have been the toughest in his tenure in Boston, which may be coming to an end. 

On what was a seemingly routine August night in Baltimore in 2008, Red Sox DH David Ortiz dug in to the box. He fouled off an outside fastball, then grabbed his right hand in agony.

In a freak injury on a swing Red Sox fans have seen a thousand times, David tore the sheath tendon off his right hand. What would follow for Ortiz, nobody could have predicted. Out for the year, David watched as his banged up teammates fell one win short of another World Series appearance.

The off-season went by relatively quietly, as the front office still felt they had more than enough talent to put another banner up at Fenway. The season did not start well for Ortiz, who hit an abysmal .185 with one HR through May.

On top of that, reports began to surface of Ortiz failing a drug test in 2004. Red Sox fans saw a side of him that success had previously protected him from. This was not the fun-loving jokester of the past; this was a dejected, vulnerable David Ortiz.

David actually was able to pick up his production for the remainder of the season, finishing with 28 HR and 99 RBI but hitting just .238 in the process. This light resurgence gave some of “The Nation” hope going into this season.

That washed away in a hurry after a .143 April with just four RBI ended in Ortiz being pinch-hit for, the first such occurrence in his tenure. It appeared to be the end of the road for Boston’s once most beloved sports hero.

He was given another chance by skipper Terry “Tito” Francona, who went through similar pressure to make a change when Dustin Pedroia started slowly in 2007. Ortiz has not disappointed. Since May 1, he has looked like the “Papi” of old, hitting .295 with 22 HR and 68 RBI. He went through tremendous struggles and has emerged as big of a threat as ever.

However, David now faces a new challenge, one that has nothing to do with his plate performance: uncertainty. I find it extremely unlikely that Theo Epstein and Red Sox management decide to pick up Ortiz’s $12.5 million option for 2011. Add that to Victor Martinez ($7.7 million), Adrian Beltre ($10 million), Mike Lowell ($12.5 million), and Julio Lugo ($9 million) all coming off the books after this season as well, the Sox are far more likely to re-invest that money into bringing back Beltre and Martinez at a higher price, allowing Ortiz to walk.

The hard truth of the matter is, as they say, money talks and BS walks. Ortiz is not coming back for anything close to $12.5 million, but given his production this season, he has every right to feel he’s worth it. It is pretty clear by their recent history that the Sox will either bring back Beltre at 3B and Martinez at DH and search for a defensive catcher. Another option is they move Youkilis to third, have Martinez play first, DH J.D. Drew, and look for a catcher and a speedy OF bat (Carl Crawford). 

The reaction to these moves will likely be unpopular as Ortiz is the most beloved player on the team and has certainly produced this year. However, this is the regime that let Pedro Martinez, Manny Ramirez, and Johnny Damon walk. They certainly are not afraid to do the same with Ortiz. Red Sox Nation will miss Ortiz dearly, but another World Series win would do a lot to accelerate the grieving process.

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