Boston Red Sox

Boston Red Sox

Sunday, March 24, 2013

Why the Red Sox May Regret Their 3-Year, $39 Million Commitment to Shane Victorino

It's only pre-season, so the numbers don't count. Whether they're good or bad, for a variety of reasons, pre-season stats are typically an inaccurate predictor of regular season results.

That said, counting all games this spring — Grapefruit League, WBC and Team USA exhibitions — Shane Victorino is 7 of 45 (.155).

There were numerous reports during the winter that Victorino's bat sped had slowed considerably, and his numbers have indeed been on a downward trend in recent years. The decline in Victorino's batting average is particularly troubling.

Victorino became an everyday player in 2006. From 2006 - 2009, he batted .288; but over the last three seasons he batted just .264. That downward spiral is worrisome.

Additionally, Victorino hit just .229 against right-handed pitching in 2012, compared to .323 vs. lefties. His struggles got so bad that he actually spent two games hitting right against right-handed pitching.

Victorino is certainly an accomplished player — a three-time Gold Glove winner, a two-time All-Star, and a one-time world champion. And his foot speed is still an asset; Victorino has stolen at least 30 bases in four of the last six years, including 39 last season. He is also considered an excellent fielder.

However, there is legitimate concern that his best days are now behind him. ESPN's Keith Law, noted Victorino's declining bat speed and suggested that he might be best suited as a fourth outfielder. Law ranked Victorino 29th among all free agents last winer, behind players such as Ichiro, Lance Berkman, Ryan Ludwick, and Kevin Youkilis.

The fact that Law ranked Victorino behind Youkilis is telling since Youkilis, like the new Sox right fielder, has also batted just .264 over the last three seasons. The Sox lost so much confidence in the fading Youkilis that they traded him last season. The club wanted no part of the free agent third baseman this winter, feeling that his skills had eroded considerably.

If you're not worried yet, consider this: Victorino's OPS last year was nearly 100 points lower than Mike Cameron's the season before his ill-fated union with the Red Sox. From a purely statistical standpoint, the Red Sox $39 million commitment to Victorino seems dubious.

At the time of Victorino's signing with the Red Sox, one American League GM said, Victorino “should have been in the $7 million-$11 million range. What they paid him is ridiculous.”

However, Victorino didn't cost the Red Sox a draft pick; he was ineligible for a one-year qualifying offer from the Dodgers because he was traded by the Phillies mid-year.

In fact, the Sox didn't sacrifice any draft picks singing free agents this offseason (or any significant prospects in trades), which will likely be of great benefit to them down the line.

To be sure, there does appear to be some upside to this signing. Victorino is a switch-hitter, so he gives the Sox some left-right balance in their lineup. He also has some pop in his bat, hitting 18 homers in 2010 and 17 in 2011. Over parts of nine seasons in the majors, Victorino has posted a career line of .275/.341/.430/.770.

The 32-year-old Victorino is also a talented defensive player who is capable of playing both right field and center at Fenway. That ability provides insurance in case Jacoby Ellsbury is injured again this season, or leaves as a free agent next offseason.

Yet, it's easy to make the argument that the Sox overpaid for Victorino. After all, the Giants retained center fielder Angel Pagan (a similar player) for four years, $40 million this winter.

The Red Sox didn't make a free agent offer beyond three years this winter. And now that Mike Napoli's deal has been reduced to one-year at $5 million, due to concerns about a degenerative hip condition, Victorino received the longest, richest contract of any free agent signed by the Red Sox this winter.

That's something the team may come to regret long before that contract expires.

Wednesday, March 06, 2013

The Tragic Tale of Ryan Westmoreland

No, it's not quite the same as the Tony Conigliaro tragedy, but the case of Ryan Westmoreland is a very sad tale nonetheless.

"Tony C." became the youngest home run champion in American League history at age 22 and also reached 100 homers faster than any other player in American League history. Then, while still just 22, Conigliaro was hit in the face by a fastball that ruined his eyesight and derailed his brief but brilliant career.

Westmoreland, on the other hand, never even made it to the majors.

The talented Red Sox minor league outfielder, also just 22, announced his retirement from baseball today. With him goes an extraordinary level of hope, hype and promise. Unfortunately, a whole lot of tremendous potential will never be realized.

Westmoreland was selected in the fifth round of the 2008 draft out of Rhode Island’s Portsmouth High School and quickly established himself as the organization's top prospect.

The gifted, young outfielder wasn't just the Red Sox top prospect; Baseball America rated Westmoreland the 21st-best prospect in baseball prior to the 2010 season.

He possessed a unique combination of hitting ability, power, speed, defensive prowess and a strong throwing arm. Yes, Westmoreland was the rare "five-tool" player, destined to be a major league star.

However, Westmoreland's career was derailed by two brain surgeries, one in March 2010 and the next in July 2012.

Far from being able to resume baseball activities, the young man faced the challenge of relearning the most basic of tasks, such as how to walk again and how to tie his shoes. Westmoreland's motor skills and reflexes were devastated by the cavernous malformation that developed in his brain stem and threatened his life.

While the surgery to correct it saved his life, it didn't spare his baseball career.

Westmoreland's dreams of being a major league player were ruined. In the process, the Red Sox lost a player that may have been a cornerstone of their franchise for years to come.

But life is not about baseball. Life is about living. And Westmoreland is indeed alive and otherwise well. Many challenges lie ahead as he seeks to resume the ability to carryout everyday functions that most of us take for granted.

Westmoreland played just one season of minor league baseball. In 2009 with Single-A Lowell, he hit .296/.401/.484/.885 with seven home runs, 35 RBIs and 19 stolen bases in 60 games.

He showed flashes of brilliance that dazzled Red Sox scouts and had the organization eagerly anticipating his arrival to the big league club.

Sadly, that day never arrived and we now know with certainty that it never will. That is truly sad.

Perhaps the most unfortunate thing in any young person's life, aside from a premature death, is the inability to realize one's enormous potential.

Hopefully, Ryan Westmoreland will discover his potential in another aspect of his life. After all, Tony C. went on to become a sports anchor in San Francisco when his baseball career was prematurely ended.

With a little luck and perseverance, perhaps Westmoreland will experience equal success in his post-baseball career. He's certainly got a life ahead of him. After all, he's still just 22-years-old.