Steve Mitchell-US PRESSWIRE
Looking for a cheaper Cody Ross? That's Scott Hairston
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.
Losing Cody Ross isn't a great thing for the Red Sox, but there are worse fates. For instance, they could give in to his contract demands and pay him $25 million over three years, a move that would likely help them in 2013, but beyond that, could be problematic. That's why at this stage, the search for alternatives should take precedence: one such option is free agent outfielder Scott Hairston.
In a blind taste test, you'd be hard-pressed to tell the difference between Hairston and Ross. Both are in their early 30s. Both are decent defensive players who can man center field in a pinch, but you'd certainly prefer to leave them in a corner where their occasional mishaps are less problematic. Both players crush lefties, and are far less of a threat against their fellow right-handers. Lastly, both players lose some offensive value due to their low walk rates, but are able to make up for most of it with their power.
Hairston, like Ross in a pre-Fenway world, has played almost entirely in pitcher's parks in his career. His last four teams are the Padres, Athletics, Padres again, and the Mets. At Citi Field, Hairston posted a .219 Isolated Power, while at Petco -- the park that destroys power more than any other in the majors -- Hairston managed a .216 ISO. His power is stunted, but not stopped, regardless of where engineers put those outfield fences.
The 2010 season was a down year, where Hairston dealt with injuries and inconsistent playing time. But other than that, he's been productive over the last few seasons:
Ross, for what it's worth, posted OPS+ of 104, 95, 107 and 113 over the last four years (a cumulative 105). Hairston, in the same stretch, was at 103. Those aren't great numbers, but in the right environment, they can be better. For Ross, this better environment meant hitting .298/.356/.565 at Fenway in 2012. For Hairston, who has been a force on the road the last two seasons (.282/.325/.529), things might turn out just as good, if not better.
Hairston has prodigious pull power. In 2011, he was 58 percent better than the league average with his production on pulled balls, and in 2012, that figure was 37 percent better. Imagine for a moment the right-handed Hairston using his excellent ability to pull the ball with authority while playing his home games with the Green Monster in left. It'd look a whole lot like Ross, who was 41 percent better than the league in 2011, and 53 percent better in 2012 -- very similar to Hairston.
He's not perfect by any means, but neither was Ross, and other options out there have their own issues. Torii Hunter is already signed, but he was a potential regression disaster. Melky Cabrera's next positive drug test would mean a 100-game suspension, but that's Toronto's problem now. Shane Victorino's market might be more significant than it should be, given his 2012. Josh Hamilton, for all of his talent, remains a risk as significant as it will be expensive. Hairston could be a placeholder that gives Boston's prospects another year to develop, so they don't need to navigate free agency to fill their outfield quite as much.
It's very likely Hairston is going to sign a one-year deal somewhere, while the similar Ross gets a multi-year deal, the largest of his career, elsewhere. Ross signed a one-year deal with the Red Sox that brought him to this point, and in a year's time, Hairston might have earned himself the same kind of ticket to guaranteed money. It's here that Boston should be looking to repeat their trick, rather than to bring in Ross once more. Hairston won't fix Boston's current need for additional plate discipline or walks, but with his power, that's fine, especially since he can be had for such a short time relative to most of the rest of the outfield market.