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RED SOX BEAT 2009-05-16


RED SOX BEAT 2009-05-16
SEATTLE - Don't think the question already hasn't crossed the minds of the Red Sox . It's a question they might not like, and one for which they almost certainly do not have an easy answer.

But it sits there, unavoidably, waiting to be asked: What if this is it for David Ortiz? What if THIS - .207, no homers in 130 at-bats, a .300 slugging percentage this season - is all the designated hitter has left?

It's not like a sudden and irreversible decline is without precedent. It happened with Mo Vaughn, and to a lesser extent, Jim Rice. And it could happen to Ortiz, too.

For the time being, the belief in the organization is that Ortiz still has something left. How much is open to question. It's probably a safe assumption that he will never again be the dominant force he was from 2004-06, when he was inarguably the most feared lefty hitter in the American League.

A more realistic hope is that Ortiz still can be a useful part of the Sox lineup. Some 10 months after the departure of Manny Ramirez, the club's order is one in transition anyway, one evolving from an offense led by Ramirez and Ortiz to one driven by Dustin Pedroia, Kevin Youkilis and, for the time being anyway, Jason Bay.

Ortiz doesn't have to be the 40-homer, 130-RBI force he was in his prime. It would be nice if he could be some reasonable approximation of his former self, a player capable of, say, 20 homers and 80-90 RBI. With Jacoby Ellsbury and Pedroia getting on base somewhere between 35 and 40 percent of the time in front of him, that wouldn't seem an unreasonable expectation.

Starting with last night's game in Seattle, the Sox will give Ortiz the remainder of the road trip off to clear his head and work on his approach on the side. When they return to Fenway for the start of a homestand Tuesday against Toronto, it's likely Ortiz will be back in his customary third spot in the lineup.

Manager Terry Francona has some available options to replace Ortiz in the No. 3 hole, including Pedroia, the reigning AL MVP. Problem is, who then would hit second? Julio Lugo? Too inconsistent, and when Jed Lowrie is healthy again, his playing time will be reduced anyway. J.D. Drew? That would leave the Sox too left-handed at the top of their order.

In addition, dropping Ortiz to sixth or seventh would result in Mike Lowell - still slowed by offseason hip surgery - hitting higher, and the fear is he would further clog the bases hitting above his usual spot.

In the event of a doomsday scenario - that is, Ortiz doesn't get any better - the Sox have no internal options. Chris Carter would be intriguing as part of a platoon, but while he seems capable of hitting good major league pitching, he hasn't done it for an extended period. Lars Anderson, the organization's best hitting prospect, is struggling to hit his weight at Double-A Portland and clearly is not ready to make the jump.

Trades?

``You can always find a bat, or a DH, in the summer,'' one major league executive said yesterday.

But would Aubrey Huff - one of many potentially available lefty bats in the final year of a contract - represent much of an upgrade? Would he instill the kind of fear in opposing teams that Ortiz once did? Hardly.

Finally, there's the team's financial investment with Ortiz - $12.5 million annually, through the end of 2010 - a not insignificant sum.

It would seem, then, the Sox have but one course of action with Ortiz, the same one they've elected to take since the start of the season: Patience.

- smcadam@bostonherald.com


Author:Fox Sports
Author's Website:http://www.foxsports.com
Added: May 16, 2009

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