David Ortiz wants to return to Boston

BOSTON -- During Thursday's season wrap-up news conference, Boston Red Sox general manager Theo Epstein called David Ortiz a leader, the long-term face of the franchise and an instrumental figure in the clubhouse.

But will he be back with the team next season?

In an interview with ESPNBoston.com on Friday, the free-agent-to-be said he'd like to return to Boston but wouldn't say specifically how much he's looking for, though he hasn't hidden his desire for a multiyear deal. He's coming off a season in which he hit .309 with 29 homers (though just one in September) and 96 RBIs. He made $12.5 million this year after the Red Sox picked up his player option last fall. Is he worth a similarly lucrative contract, even as the soon-to-be 36-year-old enters the final phase of his career?

"What people don't realize is that this is a tough place to play," said Ortiz, who added that no talks with the Red Sox have taken place yet. "Playing here is tough and when you have a player who knows how to handle his business here, that's a keeper. As long as that player is providing what you ask him for, and I'm not just talking about my situation, but about things in general. But we'll see.

"Playing here is not for everybody. This is a tough town to play in, not because it's a bad town to play for. I love the fans here. The fans are into it. They support you here. It's just not everybody knows how to deal with that. Not every athlete knows how to deal with s---. Even when you know how to deal with s---, it's hard."

One player who found out the challenges of playing in Boston this season was Carl Crawford, who struggled in his first season with the Red Sox.

"Coming from a team like Tampa where you don't have that much attention, and then to play in Boston, sometimes you put too much pressure on yourself," Ortiz said in defending Crawford, who hit .255 with 11 homers and 56 RBIs. "I guess that's the case with CC. He learned this year and he saw how things go around here and I'm sure he'll be more prepared for next year. He's a great athlete. It's just a matter of time."

Ortiz has kept a low profile the last couple of days after the Sox completed the biggest September collapse in baseball history to miss the playoffs, but has been keeping close tabs on the reports surfacing about lack of chemistry in the clubhouse.

Manager Terry Francona and the Red Sox agreed that he will not return as manager, the team announced later on Friday.

"You can't blame the guys who did good," Ortiz said. "The guys who busted their ass off and did the things to keep this team on board, you can't blame those guys. I did what I was supposed to do, but I could have done better. I think I did what I was supposed to."

Ortiz said he was "fine with Tito" but he did hint that the clubhouse had issues, something Francona acknowledged on Thursday.

"I worry about playing baseball more than anything else," Ortiz said. "I know we have some players that (the organization thought were) worried about some other s--- and sometimes there were certain things that no one in the clubhouse can control. I was trying and I have no issues. My only problem was when I started being benched (in 2010) and that was my only issue with Tito. Other than that we're cool."

Before reports questioning Francona's future in Boston started to surface, Ortiz wasn't expecting the manager to leave.

"I am surprised," he said. "I'm surprised because I'm hearing things right now (in the news) that I didn't know were going on."

Joe McDonald covers the Red Sox for ESPNBoston.com.