BOSTON -- In case you missed it two weeks ago, David Ortiz filed the paperwork with Major League Baseball that made the inevitable official.
Big Papi is retired.
So, although Ortiz still occasionally walks through the doors of Fenway Park (he recently wrote for The Players' Tribune that he surprised team officials last month when he dropped by to work out), the Boston Red Sox must get on with replacing their iconic slugger -- or at least his production in the middle of the lineup.
Edwin Encarnacion, Ortiz's preferred successor, is still available via free agency, but the Sox don’t appear willing to make the long-term commitment or forfeit the draft-pick compensation required to sign the 33-year-old right-handed hitter. Jose Bautista, Encarnacion's longtime Toronto Blue Jays teammate, also is holding out for a big deal, although his market might be slower to develop after a subpar season.
With Ortiz's annual charity golf event scheduled for this weekend and the winter meetings set to begin Sunday in National Harbor, Maryland, it's a good time to explore the Red Sox's other options to take over the designated hitter spot.
Beltran still makes the most sense for the Red Sox based on two factors: He's a switch-hitter with similar left-right splits who would fit in Boston’s righty-leaning lineup and, unlike Encarnacion, it's doubtful he will receive a long-term commitment by virtue of the fact that he will turn 40 in April.
It's no wonder, then, that a league source recently characterized the Red Sox's interest in Beltran by saying, "They want him badly."
But Boston isn't alone. Beltran represents a fit for several teams, including the New York Yankees, who seemingly cleared a spot for him last month by trading Brian McCann to the Houston Astros, a team that also is a potential suitor. Beltran has played in Houston and New York, too, for both the Yankees and Mets, and might prefer to finish his career in the Big Apple.
During the past three seasons, Beltran has averaged 21 homers and a .794 OPS while transitioning to more of a DH role. He had a mini-revival this season with 29 homers and an .850 OPS for the Yankees and the Texas Rangers, numbers that might merit a two-year guarantee.
Regardless, Beltran might boost his price by sparking a good old-fashioned Sox-Yanks bidding war.
As all patrons of Boston's favorite fictional watering hole undoubtedly know, sometimes you wanna go where everybody knows your name. Cheers, then, to the idea of Napoli returning to this city, where his shirtless romp down Boylston Street after the 2013 World Series preceded the urges of Cleveland Indians fans to party at Napoli's this year.
Not only does Napoli know Boston, he actually likes it here, which is more than many free agents wind up saying. The Red Sox have been in contact with Napoli, according to a league source, but prefer to wait on the resolution of the competitive balance tax in the new collective bargaining agreement before signing any free agents.
It’s easy to see the Sox signing Napoli to rotate with Hanley Ramirez between first base and DH. Napoli, 35, also has a well-earned reputation as a clubhouse leader and would be a positive influence on still-impressionable right fielder Mookie Betts and shortstop Xander Bogaerts.
But Napoli is a right-handed hitter, and president of baseball operations Dave Dombrowski recently said "the preference [to take Ortiz's spot] would be a left-handed bat." And although Napoli never has been afraid to sign a one-year contract (he did so in 2013 and 2016 and had arguably the best seasons of his career), he didn't receive the $17.2 million qualifying offer from the small-market Indians and figures to be seeking a multiyear guarantee.
After notching career highs in homers (34), RBIs (101) and plate appearances (645), Napoli should get it in the form of a two- or three-year deal. He has drawn interest from the Yankees as a fallback to Beltran, or he could return to Cleveland.
Fun fact: When Red Sox manager John Farrell pitched for Oklahoma State in the early '80s, he babysat for Holliday, whose father coached Farrell.
But that relationship didn't bring Holliday to Boston in 2009, when he was a sought-after free agent in his prime. It isn't likely to be a factor now, either, especially considering the 36-year-old outfielder is coming off a season in which he posted a career-low .782 OPS in 110 games for the St. Louis Cardinals and had his $17 million option declined.
Holliday, a right-handed hitter, might be a classic buy-low candidate available on a one-year contract. But he also has the look of a fading former All-Star. He hasn't played a full season since 2014 and hasn't topped 20 homers since 2013.
DH BY COMMITTEE
Ortiz's presence as a full-time designated hitter made the Red Sox atypical.
This past season, Ortiz, Victor Martinez (Detroit Tigers), Kendrys Morales (Kansas City Royals), Albert Pujols (Los Angeles Angels) and Nelson Cruz (Seattle Mariners) were the only players with more than 400 at-bats as a designated hitter. Most American League teams have benefited from rotating players through the DH spot as a way of providing periodic rest and maintaining lineup flexibility.
Given the makeup of their roster, the Red Sox might be trending in that direction.
Ramirez and third baseman Pablo Sandoval profile as DHs before their contracts expire. Fellow corner infielder Travis Shaw struggled badly after the All-Star break, but he still has 29 homers in 706 career big league at-bats. And Dombrowski recently noted several prospects who are nearly ready for the big leagues, a group that includes infielder Yoan Moncada, third baseman Rafael Devers and first baseman Sam Travis.
"How long do you want to tie somebody up for that [DH] position when we have a lot of young players coming?" Dombrowski said. "I think that's a very important part of it. Do you want to tie up that one spot with one individual? I'm not sure. Now, one year? Maybe one year is different. But from a long-term basis, do you want to do that? I'm not sure."
Fourteen years ago, the Red Sox signed a hulking slugger who had been cast aside twice before, including by the Minnesota Twins after hitting 58 homers in 1,477 big league at-bats.
And, of course, Ortiz morphed into Big Papi.
That brings us to Carter, designated for assignment Monday night by the Milwaukee Brewers despite leading the National League with 41 homers and posting his best OPS (.821) since 2012. But Carter, a right-handed hitter who turns 30 in December, is the epitome of an all-or-nothing slugger. He struck out 206 times this season and has averaged 188 whiffs since 2013.
Could Carter be the second coming of Ortiz? Some team might think so.
Just don’t bet on it.