- Gordon Edes, ESPN Staff Writer
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BOSTON -- Let's end one debate right now.
Ortiz, like Jeter, is the face of his franchise and remains an important part of the sports landscape in his town. He is what Paul Pierce is to the Celtics and Tom Brady is to the Patriots. Ortiz's image is not as pristine as Jeter's, not after he was linked to performance-enhancing substances last year, but he remains an icon and a force in the community, one whose name has been linked to good far more than the opposite.
There's still plenty of wattage left in Ortiz's star power, in a sport where the recognized big names still come in relatively short supply: Pujols, Jeter, Mariano, Mauer, Howard, Halladay, Fielder, Hamilton, Longoria, Big Papi. For a team that is relentless in its devotion to its sellout streak -- 620 and counting since May 15, 2003, which is just before Ortiz became an everyday player for the Sox -- that matters.
And, while Jeter's skills have taken a sharp dip at age 36 -- not that you should bet against him having a bounce-back season in 2011 -- Ortiz has answered all questions about whether he still ranks among the game's most productive hitters at age 34.
On Monday night, Ortiz hit his 28th home run of the season in Boston's 12-5 win over the Tampa Bay Rays, a two-run shot in the first inning that sounded like a thunderclap when it came off his bat.
It had been awhile in coming. Since going deep against the Angels on Aug. 19, Ortiz had not hit a home run in 60 at-bats and was batting just .200 in that span, with only six extra-base hits and six RBIs. With a lineup missing both Dustin Pedroia and Kevin Youkilis, Ortiz's patience at the plate eroded. The percentage of pitches he chased out of the strike zone increased in that span from 22.5 percent to 30.3 percent.
On Monday, the struggles lifted, at least for a night. In addition to the home run, Ortiz had an RBI double and walked twice, as the Sox made the most of their eight hits (and 10 walks) to throttle the Rays.
These are Ortiz's numbers after Monday night: 28 home runs, .365 on-base percentage, .528 slugging percentage, .893 OPS (on-base plus slugging). Is he the same hitter that he was in his prime? Of course not.
But you know how many players in the big leagues exceeded all of those numbers entering play Monday night (minimum of 400 plate appearances)? Seven. Miguel Cabrera, Josh Hamilton, Joey Votto, Jose Bautista, Albert Pujols, Carlos Gonzalez and Paul Konerko.
That list contains three of the leading contenders for American League MVP (Cabrera, Hamilton and Konerko), the AL's leading home run hitter (Bautista) and three of the leading contenders for NL MVP (Pujols, Votto and Gonzalez).
That's pretty good company to be keeping. The only DH with a higher OPS this season than Ortiz is Baltimore's Luke Scott (.358/.559/.917). No DH has as many home runs; Ortiz has three more than Vladi Guerrero of the Rangers.
Physically, Ortiz is a streamlined version of his old self, which in one way, of course, raises its own set of questions, but at the same time allays concerns that he would let himself go, a la Cecil Fielder.
The big question is whether he can maintain similar production in 2011, at age 35. Since 2000, seven DHs age 35 or older have had an .OPS of .850 or higher (minimum 400 plate appearances). Edgar Martinez did it four times. Jim Thome did it three times, as did Frank Thomas. Ellis Burks did it twice. Hideki Matsui, Rafael Palmeiro and Jason Giambi did it once each.
In a season in which 19 of his teammates have gone on the disabled list, Ortiz has remained healthy. There is no reason to believe that next season he could not approach the same level of production as the seven men listed above.
The only issue, then, is money. The Sox hold an option on Ortiz in 2011 for $12.5 million, the same salary he has been paid in each of the past four seasons. The club is prepared to pick up that option, according to a major league source well acquainted with the Sox's thinking. Ortiz would like an extension, which the team does not seem inclined to offer him.
That's business, but nowhere near as delicate as the issue facing the Yankees with Jeter, who has been paid $20 million or more in each of the past four seasons and is eligible for free agency after the season.
But just as the Yankees and Jeter will ultimately come to an agreement amenable to both sides, so should the Red Sox with Ortiz. It may require some creativity, perhaps another option year loaded with makeable incentives.
Ortiz said again Monday night that he has yet to hear from the Sox about his contract.
"No, sir,'' he said. "Not one word.''
What are they waiting for? "No idea,'' he said. "I would like to know too.
"We'll see. They always come up with something. I want to [come back], but it doesn't depend on me anymore, you know?''
Gordon Edes covers the Red Sox for ESPNBoston.com. Follow him on Twitter.
10hAnthony Witrado, Special to ESPN.com
16hAnthony Witrado, Special to ESPN.com