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.

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