Kyle Terada-US PRESSWIRE
The recently-signed Jonny Gomes should provide some real value if he's played correctly, but his splits suggest he'd be better off as part of a platoon. The question becomes: who should he be paired with?
Last Wednesday, the Red Sox made their second signing of the off-season, this time inking Jonny Gomes to a two-year, $10 million dollar contract*. With the deal, Boston gets a player who has been lauded for being a positive figure in a major-league clubhouse. This strong locker room presence has been something fans of the team have been clamoring for over the past couple of years. On top of being a good guy for team chemistry, Gomes also brings a useful skill-set on the field, and will do so on a relatively cheap contract.
* The deal is still not official, and is pending a physical.
On the field, Gomes' top attribute is definitely his bat. Over the past four seasons, he has been above-average at the plate by both wRC+ and OPS+ in three of them, with 2011 being his lone below-average year by both metrics. However, those numbers do come with a slight caveat: he is a much better hitter when a left-hander is on the mound. In his career, Gomes has a 140 wRC+ and a 127 OPS+ against southpaws, compared to a 93 wRC+ and 85 OPS+ when facing a righty. Because of this, and his defense being an overall negative to his value, he would be best used as a platoon player. So now, it is the job of Ben Cherington and the rest of the front office to find the right match to platoon the former Athletic with.
A logical place to start this search would be within the organization. The team obviously has money to spend if they want to look elsewhere, but that wouldn't be a smart move if a platoon partner were already on hand. One such option could be everyone's favorite young outfielder, Ryan Kalish. The 24-year old has been on the radar of Boston fans since 2009-2010, but has largely disappointed in two short stints with the big-league club, posting a .243/.293/.351 slash-line in 282 career plate appearances.
However, Kalish isn't getting any younger, and he may be running out of chances. Because of this, it may make sense for the team to decide that 2013 will be his make-or-break year. Should this end up being the case, platooning him with Gomes could be a perfect opportunity. While there isn't enough reliable data available from Kalish at the major-league level to determine his true platoon-splits, he does bat from the left side. This would imply that he likely would fare better against right-handed pitchers. Additionally, he can also play either corner outfield spot, so if the everyday right fielder ends up being a poor defender, they could shift to left field on days that Jonny Gomes sits on the bench.
Another in-house option would be fan-favorite Daniel Nava. Everyone knows about the outfielder's strange path to the majors, and he showed an impressive plate approach that should play at the game's highest level. On top of this, the switch-hitter has hit right-handed pitching at a better clip than southpaws in his major-league career. Getting on base was a big problem for this offense in 2012, and Nava is the perfect type of player to combat this trend.
Finally, there is the man whose season ended after punching a door. Of course, I refer to Ryan Sweeney. He seems to be the most unlikely candidate from within the organization, but should others be dealt or get hurt, he wouldn't be a terrible consolation prize. Like Kalish, he has defensive versatility, as he is -- by most accounts -- a plus-defender at either corner outfield spot. He also happens to be an above-average hitter against righties over his career.
If the Red Sox decide that they don't currently have Gomes' ideal platoon partner under contract, there are two intriguing free agents available. The first is old friend Jason Bay, who recently came to an agreement to with the Mets to enter free agency early. Since his former team will still be sending him pay checks from his previous contract, he probably won't be worrying too much about accepting the deal with the most money offered. While he isn't the player he used to be, he also certainly isn't as bad as he was in his putrid 2012 campaign. Over his career, he has been about equally capable against pitchers of either handedness, so platoon-splits shouldn't be too much of an issue. Additionally, Fenway Park should be friendlier to him than Citi Field was. It would definitely be a risky move, but it could potentially bring some added pop to the lineup.
The most compelling out-of-market acquisition could be Grady Sizemore. Just four years ago, after the 2008 season, all signs pointed towards the former Indian being one of the elite players in all of baseball. However, injuries have since derailed his career, and he didn't play a single inning in 2012. Because of this, he will likely only sign a one-year contract, with small money and many incentives. This would make him a perfect low-risk, high-reward free agent candidate. He also happens to hit righties much better than lefties, which of course fits perfectly with Gomes' batter profile. If the front office decides to look elsewhere for the second half of the platoon, Sizemore is the perfect fit.
Since they'll probably have to spend some sort of significant money to fill their hole in right field -- whether it be on Cody Ross, Shane Victorino, or someone else -- it's more likely they'd look inside the organization to find a good pairing for Jonny Gomes. If this were the case, Kalish would be the best match. He has the defensive abilities to play multiple positions, and he owns the most upside of any in-house candidate. However, I hope Cherington doesn't overlook the free agent market, because a small, incentive-laden deal with Grady Sizemore could be a real potential boom, and would leave Kalish open to be a super-utility outfielder, leaving him available to take over should one of the full-timers get hurt.