Woe betide the team that crosses David Ortiz. The man appears to hold a grudge.
As if the Twins hadn't received enough reminders through the years of their regrettable decision to release Ortiz after the 2002 season -- at a time when he remained under team control for two more years -- the slugger offered further cause for lamentation in the Sox' 9-4 victory over Minnesota on Wednesday. He went 3-for-5 and crushed two homers (the second straight day he'd gone deep twice against his former club) and a double.
The numbers posted by Ortiz against the Twins have reached the level of absurdity. In 56 career games against Minnesota, he's hitting .350 with a .440 OBP and .701 slugging mark (all his highest marks against any team he's played at least 20 games against) with 19 homers in 56 games.
He's made Target Field, the new home of the Twins, his personal playground. In 13 games in the Twins' new home park, he's hitting .528 with a .583 OBP, 1.113 slugging mark and nine homers.
Is Ortiz simply engaged in punitive revenge? The 38-year-old insists that -- even though being released stung, and even though he bristled when left in the minors all season in 1999 (after a strong performance in 86 big league games in 1998) -- such is not the case.
"I thank those guys, to be honest with you. I learned a lot of good things from those guys, even going through tough situations playing here," Ortiz told reporters after Wednesday's game. "Those guys taught me not to take anything for granted and to work hard every day to get better. That’s the one thing I can tell you about the Twins organization. They teach you how to play the game the right way. I try to play hard every day."
Still, in a more candid setting, Ortiz acknowledged the notion that he remains mindful of the slight paid by an organization that decided that, after a 2002 campaign in which he hit .272 with a .339 OBP and .500 slugging mark while launching 20 homers in 125 games, he was simply released -- a move made at the time to free a roster spot for utility infielder Jose Morban, who was taken in the Rule 5 draft but released at the end of the next spring training by Minnesota.
"We talked about it before the game -- there might be a day in the past that sticks in his mind when the decision was made to let him go," manager John Farrell told reporters. "When you leave your original organization, that's a memory that doesn't necessarily go away, no matter how that end came about, whether a roster decision or a trade or likewise."
Indeed, Ortiz has become Red Sox royalty. He further cemented his stature in Red Sox history on Wednesday night, leaving behind Jim Rice to claim third place on the franchise's all-time home run list with 384 as a member of the Sox. According to Baseball-Reference.com, he's been worth 43.7 wins above a replacement-level player in his 11-plus years in Boston, one of the elite bats in the game, year after year -- a status that remains intact even now, when Ortiz is hitting .305 with a .396 OBP and .596 slugging mark, leading the American League with a .992 OPS.
"He's in a very rare stretch right now with the overall production. … When he squares a ball up, there's no ballpark in the country that's going to hold him in," Farrell told reporters. "He's in a place right now that you think back to October. Any pitch that found its way into the strike zone, he's going to put a barrel to it."
This is now the 12th season of evidence to suggest that the Twins' decision to let Ortiz walk was one of the worst in big league history. Of course, their misstep was shared by the industry, as Ortiz signed for just one year and $1.25 million with the Sox; no one traded for him to assume control over the final two years of his pre-free agent control before the Twins made the decision to release him after his age 26 season.
Still, this represented a transaction blunder for the ages. The 384 homers that Ortiz has launched for the Sox represent the sixth most a player has ever launched for an organization after being let go by another. And the five players ahead of him each at least netted something in return via trade:
Babe Ruth -- 659 HR with the Yankees after being sold by the Red Sox for $100,000
Barry Bonds -- 586 HR with the Giants after leaving the Pirates in free agency
Sammy Sosa -- 545 HR with the Cubs after being traded by the White Sox for George Bell
Jeff Bagwell -- 449 HR with the Astros after being traded by the Red Sox for Larry Anderson
Paul Konerko -- 428 HR with the White Sox after being traded by the Reds for Mike Cameron
The Pirates simply couldn't afford Bonds, who was set to garner a major league-record contract in free agency. Three of the other four players either represented prospects who were unproven at the big league level (Bagwell, who was a minor leaguer; Sosa, who had hit .228/.273/.376 with 29 homers in 327 big league games from ages 20-22, and Konerko, who hit .217/.276/.332 as a 22-year-old).
Ruth, of course, was a woeful mistake, the single-worst transaction ever involving a position player. Baseball-Reference.com credits him with a WAR of 142.7 with the Yankees, the largest such figure ever for a player with a single team after he'd changed clubs.
Of the 156 players who have posted a WAR of 40 or better for a single team since World War I, Ortiz and Ruth represent two of the 24 players who did so after leaving the team with which they started their pro careers. (Footnote: Both Ortiz and Ruth had already changed organizations by the time they reached the team that made a colossal mistake with them. Ortiz originally signed with the Mariners and was traded to the Twins, while Ruth had originally been signed by the Orioles before being sold to the Sox.)
A quick look at that list features a number of players with ties to the Red Sox:
Ruth -- 142.7 WAR for the Yankees after being sold by the Red Sox (1919)
Bonds -- 112.3 WAR for the Giants after leaving the Pirates in free agency (1992)
Roberto Clemente -- 94.4 WAR for the Pirates after being taken from the Dodgers in the Rule 5 draft (1954)
Bagwell -- 79.6 WAR for the Astros after being traded by the Red Sox (1990)
Ryne Sandberg -- 67.7 WAR with the Cubs after being traded by the Phillies in a package for Ivan De Jesus (1982)
Pee Wee Reese -- 66.3 WAR with the Dodgers after being traded by the Red Sox for $35,000 and three players of no distinction (1939)
Ozzie Smith -- 65.6 WAR with the Cardinals after being traded by the Padres for Garry Templeton (who did make an All-Star team with the Padres) (1981)
Sosa -- 58.5 WAR after being traded by the White Sox to the Cubs for George Bell (1992)
Joe Morgan -- 57.8 WAR with the Reds after being traded by the Astros for a package that included Lee May (1971)
Willie Randolph -- 53.7 WAR with the Yankees after being traded by the Pirates as part of a package for Doc Medich (1975)
Alex Rodriguez -- 52.5 WAR with the Yankees since being traded by the Rangers for Alfonso Soriano and Joaquin Arias (2004)
Norm Cash -- 51.7 WAR with the Tigers after being traded by the White Sox for players of no distinction (1959)
Jose Cruz -- 51.2 WAR with the Astros after being purchased from the Cardinals (1974)
Larry Walker -- 48.2 WAR with the Rockies after leaving the Expos in free agency (1995)
Bobby Abreu -- 47.0 WAR with the Phillies after being left unprotected by the Astros in the 1997 expansion draft; the Devil Rays selected him and then traded him to the Phillies for Kevin Stocker (1997)
Nellie Fox -- 46.9 WAR with the White Sox after being traded by the Philadelphia A's for Joe Tipton (1949)
Jim Fregosi -- 45.9 WAR with the Angels after being taken from the Red Sox in the expansion draft (1960)
Amos Otis -- 44.6 WAR with the Royals after being traded by the Mets for former Red Sox shortstop Joe Foy (1969); Otis had been plucked by the Mets from the Red Sox in the minor league draft (1966)
Rafael Palmeiro -- 44.4 WAR with the Rangers after being traded by the Cubs (1988)
Graig Nettles -- 44.3 WAR with the Yankees after being traded by the Indians for players of no distinction (1972)
Ortiz -- 43.7 WAR with the Red Sox since signing as a free agent (2003)
Lou Brock -- 41.6 WAR with the Cardinals after being traded by the Cubs for players who yielded a net negative WAR in Chicago (1964)
Jim Wynn -- 41.4 WAR with the Astros after being drafted from the Reds in the first-year draft (1962)
Ken Williams -- 40.3 WAR with the Browns after the Reds let him walk (1916)
Edd Roush -- 40.0 WAR with the Reds after being traded by the Giants for players of no distinction (1916)
A couple of takeaways:
1. Based on career performance, Ortiz probably represents the worst position player personnel decision since … Bagwell. There have been some other players in the last 20-plus years who flourished after being traded, though Alex Rodriguez has been something of a Trojan Horse for the Yankees, it would be difficult to suggest that Abreu's tenure in Philadelphia matched the significance of Ortiz's in Boston and the Expos and Pirates simply didn't have the resources to re-sign Bagwell and Bonds, respectively. Sosa, meanwhile, had given no indication of what he might become, and he appeared to net what was at least in theory a decent return (given what was valued by the baseball industry at the time, the impetus for the White Sox to try to acquire a player like George Bell -- a 25-home run hitter who could slot into the middle of the order, at a time when on-base percentage wasn't getting its proper due). Ortiz and Abreu represent the two absolute giveaways on the list in the last 40 years.
2. The Red Sox had a bunch of horrific transactions that underscore why their title drought reached 86 years. Ruth and Bagwell represented franchise players who were allowed to depart. Letting Otis go in a minor league draft, leaving Fregosi -- an All-Star shortstop -- to be taken in the expansion draft and selling Pee Wee Reese to the Dodgers denied the team elite players with nothing to show in return. It wasn't until the Red Sox finally hit the lottery with a player of their own that they were positioned for their run of three championships in a 10-season span.
"Thankfully for the Red Sox," Farrell noted to reporters, "he's come this way."