BOSTON — David Ortiz has been through a lot in nearly a decade with the Red Sox.
He’s earned two World Series rings and owns the club record for homers in a season. He suffered through a monumental September collapse last year, and has been sidelined with a strained right Achilles as the team faded out of the playoff picture this season under first-year manager Bobby Valentine.
This winter, like the last one, he will be a free agent. And though a return to Boston is quite possible, you never know.
“It’s just been hard,” said Ortiz, who has not played in a game the last two months. “It’s just one of those years that the front office and everyone knows that we’ve got to put a better team together. Everybody in the offseason has to reinforce it. Now we have more competition in this division.
“If we want to compete at this level, we’ve got to bring a better team.”
The Red Sox, off Monday, are 69-85 and 20 games behind the first-place Yankees in the American League East.
“We’re competing right now to not end in last place in the division. Is that competition? No, that’s not competition. Competition is when you are trying to go to the playoffs and you are in the top two,” Ortiz said. “That’s what we need, guys that are capable to come in and provide that.”
The 36-year old slugger has become the face of the Red Sox. He was called the “greatest clutch hitter” in club history by ownership after helping them capture their first World Series title in 86 years back in 2004. The eight-time All-Star hit a team-record 54 homers in 2006, and was having another solid year, batting .318 with 23 homers and 60 RBIs before going down with the injury this summer.
During the 2004 postseason, he posted consecutive game-winning hits in Games 4 and 5 of the ALCS when Boston rallied from an 0-3 deficit to stun the Yankees. But despite the postseason success, Ortiz, like the club, is in a funk. After all, the Red Sox will miss the postseason for the third straight year next month.
He understands, of course, how one’s performance can be affected in a market that highly scrutinizes its players. Many on opposing teams even ask him about it.
“Oh, yeah, I hear that a lot. I tell them pretty much exactly how it is,” he said, as he sat at his locker along a back wall in Fenway Park. “I mean, you don’t have to be mean everyday. If you can be a good player, that’s a plus. But try to be consistent, that’s all they ask for (here). And if they sense you’re being consistent at this level, that’s the hardest thing to do.
“What makes it hard here is how the team is doing. If the team’s doing OK and everybody’s fine and you don’t see stupid things popping up, everything’s fine. But when everything’s going badly — like it has the past couple of years for us — people are going to try and make some noise.
“And I understand that.”
Ortiz feels what he calls the “drama” about being on the Red Sox can even get to him at times.
“Sometimes I get frustrated, I’m not going to lie to you,” he said. “I think that’s toughest part about playing here.”
He certainly understands how the market can affect new players that land in Boston. And players, of course, have been coming and going recently. Adrian Gonzalez and Carl Crawford, for instance, didn’t last two seasons with the Red Sox.
“For some players, yeah, in their mind they think that all you have to do is come here and play baseball. That’s what they brought you here for,” he said. “But once you start dealing with some of the things out of baseball, or related to baseball that you didn’t have to because you’ve never had to deal with it before, then that can work both ways. It can go bad or it can get your attention and make you make sure you want to approach things differently.”
Ortiz appeared confident he’ll be back next season. He even addressed a thought that ownership may let him shop for offers before seeing if the Red Sox have a strong interest.
“When I hear people making comments about myself that way, that’s where my question would come and be,” he said. “‘I thought you were supposed to be keeping good players?’ Especially like the market is in today’s day. There’s not going to be too much out there. Why would you let a good player go? That’s all I ask.”
Ortiz has hit at least 20 home runs in the last 11 years.
“If that is the case,” he continued about free agency, “of course, I’m going to have to go and ask the (contract) question of somebody else, but I don’t think that’s going to be the case. There’s not one day that I don’t want to go out there and kick some (butt). That’s a keeper. That’s what we need right here — guys that aren’t afraid to go out there and compete and make sure they don’t take anything for granted.”
He expressed disappointment the past two years of not receiving a multiyear deal, but repeated what he’s said often about that topic.
“All I want is respect,” he said. “That’s all I’ve ever said.”