Gary A. Vasquez-US PRESSWIRE
The Red Sox need outfield help, but it's debatable whether Shane Victorino can provide that
There are quite a few free agents that should be attractive to the Red Sox this off-season. Because of that, we'll take them one at a time, and profile those who Boston might be a match with. Just because they're covered here, though, doesn't mean they're endorsed: this is meant to be an exercise in finding out whether or not the players in question should be future Red Sox.
There are still plenty of options in the outfield market, and there is always the possibility of a trade. That being said, the fact that both Torii Hunter and Melky Cabrera are off of the board doesn't make Boston's job of filling their outfield holes any easier, as it means two fewer players they can bring in at a time when nothing but center field has an answer.
Part of the problem is that there are no perfect fits -- and that includes both Hunter and Cabrera -- for the spots, as some players want too many years, or too much money, or both. There still are worthwhile outfielders on the market, though. Is Shane Victorino one of them?
Victorino has been in the majors with the Phillies since 2005, or was, until last July, when he was traded to the Los Angeles Dodgers. Victorino peaked between 2008 and 2011, his age-27 through age-30 seasons, when he hit a combined .281/.348/.452, good for a 111 OPS+. On its own, that's solid, but not impressive. Combined with the fact he was playing in center field, though, and that he was a quality defensive player and baserunner, Victorino was a valuable asset for the Phils at their own peak.
The 2012 season was rough, though, with Victorino hitting .255/.321/.383 while splitting time between the Dodgers and Phils. He was well below-average offensively as a center fielder thanks to his low on-base percentage in the role, and even worse as the left fielder in Los Angeles, as he didn't show the kind of pop necessary for the position. Defensively, he was still productive, and his baserunning was a positive, so he was still an above-average player overall. There are issues going forward despite this, though, at least insofar as the Red Sox are concerned.
Victorino was able to be as valuable as he was in part because he played so much in center field. Boston wouldn't use him there, as left and right field are open at present, with Jacoby Ellsbury in center. Victorino's glove would work well in a corner, but his bat is a stretch in right, even if you assume 2012 was something of a blip. Left is more like it, but his glove is wasted there a little more than it would be elsewhere in the outfield.
Cost is another issue. Victorino is just one year removed from a season in which he posted a 130 OPS+ with 60 extra-base hits. Someone out there is bound to overpay in either years or dollars in the hopes of recapturing that magic. They might not be completely off-base, either, as Victorino's 2012 could have been in part problematic due to various injuries sustained throughout the season.
If three- and four-year deals do not begin to surround Victorino, though, Boston might want to talk to him. Victorino is a switch-hitter, and while he has benefited in part from his homer-friendly home park from the left side, Citizen's Bank Park hurts offense from the right. This balancing act might account for why his home and road splits look so similar. Even with the boost from the left side, the stadium isn't boosting doubles and triples, which are more up Victorino's alley. In Fenway, the outfielder who has led the NL in triples twice in the last five years, and has 54 of them overall in that stretch, could do a lot of damage between the triangle, the expansive right field, and the Monster in left.
The loss of home run help would be a problem, but if Victorino isn't in possession of that kind of power anymore anyway, it's like saying Ryan Sweeney's home run production will be harmed by Fenway. The doubles and triples boost would theoretically make up for it, and having another quality baserunner like Victorino around would be helpful, too, especially if the Red Sox decide to move Jacoby Ellsbury down in the lineup to spread the offense around.
What should the Sox offer Victorino, though? He's going to be 32 years old, and is coming off of a down year. Victorino might be a great candidate for a one-year deal with an option, or a high base salary for one year to rebuild his value. He made $9.5 million in 2012, and while he isn't necessarily deserving of a raise based on that season, a raise could be just what entices him to ink with the Sox. If Victorino can have another season like any of those during his peak, as an athletic, positive defender who can hit, he would be in line for the kind of big payday that was expected for him before 2012.
Unless someone has a whole lot of faith in him, or is desperate enough, he's unlikely to see that payday now. It would make more sense for him to attempt to reestablish his value on a short-term contract and then go from there, than it would for him to settle for someone's offer now. Again, unless someone goes a little crazy, and Jim Bowden predicts Victorino to get three years at $9.5 million per season. Is that enough for Victorino, or will he wait it out a year in order to shoot for more? It's not even winter meetings time yet, so it's hard to say right now.
If Victorino did well with the Red Sox for one season, he could be handed a qualifying offer, giving the Red Sox an extra draft pick in 2014. If he doesn't do well, then at least Boston was just stuck with him for one season. It's tough to gauge just which version of Victorino is going to appear in 2013, but there are risks and a cost associated with every outfielder on the market. If Boston can get him short-term, then he's worth exploring. If not, let someone else potentially overpay him in years and dollars.