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December 5, 2012

Transaction Analysis

Boston Declares Victorino

by R.J. Anderson

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BOSTON RED SOX
Team Audit | Player Cards | Depth Chart

Signed OF-S Shane Victorino to a three-year deal worth $39 million. [12/4]

When Boston’s front office flies home from Nashville on Thursday afternoon, they will do so with a new first baseman and outfielder in tow. A day after signing Mike Napoli, Ben Cherington shook hands with Victorino’s representative on a three-year pact. Although it appears to be an odd marriage on the surface, there is some logic in the depth.

The leading question is where Victorino will play in the outfield. Jacoby Ellsbury—should he remain in Boston—figures to start in center field while the defensively challenged Jonny Gomes looks like a fit for left field, where the small lawn and big wall will limit his damage. Same with Gomes’ platoon mate, be it Daniel Nava or Ryan Kalish. That leaves right field to Victorino. Primarily a center fielder throughout his career, the native Hawaiian shifted to left upon joining the Dodgers last July. He then went on to have a miserable half-season in Los Angeles, leaving one scout to murmur about tentative play in the outfield and another to remark that the indefatigable Victorino appeared lethargic.

Cherington is doubling down on a Victorino rebound by moving him to a more offensively demanding position. But a bounce-back is not guaranteed. Victorino saw his contact rate and power production decline with the Dodgers. The drop in contact, if legitimate, is concerning for a 32-year-old player with more on-base skills than power ability. At his best, Victorino is a dynamo capable of good defensive play, opportunistic baserunning, and voluminous yet efficient base stealing. A lot of his value relies upon getting on base, and his value takes a hit without the contact chops.

As worrisome as Victorino’s stint with the Dodgers is, his struggles against right-handed pitchers have deeper roots. Victorino has a three-year True Average of .334 against lefties and .253 against righties. Switch hitters tend to have small, imperceptible platoon splits. That isn’t the case for Victorino. The potential saving grace for Boston is Victorino’s past success, in 2009 and earlier, against righties. It’s up to the Red Sox to figure out what went wrong in his swing or approach from the left side.

It’s difficult to write about this move without wondering about the Ellsbury-related ramifications. Ellsbury is a free agent at season’s end and could become the belle of next year’s Winter Meetings with a season similar to his 2011. Yet if Ellsbury repeats his 2010 or 2012 offerings then we’ll be talking about him as a lottery ticket. You can understand why the Red Sox may be reluctant to tie big money into Ellsbury given the volatility of his stock. Besides, the Red Sox do have Jackie Bradley in the minors. Using Victorino in center field would allow Bradley to finish his development before taking over.

Barring a trade, the Ellsbury conundrum is a good year from resolution. A matter more worthy of immediate attention is the money handed to Victorino. The Red Sox are seemingly paying a premium despite the down year, but it may have been necessary to net Victorino. The Indians offered the outfielder a four-year deal worth more than $40 million, according to Jordan Bastian. Boston won Victorino, in essence, by taking a different approach to risk management than Cleveland.  Cherington would rather pay a player a few million more over a shorter span than ease the budget blow by adding another season.

Whether Boston’s apparent decision to pay more for less is the right decision will depend on how Victorino performs.  

 

R.J. Anderson is an author of Baseball Prospectus. 
Click here to see R.J.'s other articles. You can contact R.J. by clicking here

11 comments have been left for this article. (Click to hide comments)

BP Comment Quick Links

amazin_mess

Why would they jettison all that salary and the bad contracts to take on more? Does Cherington have any idea what he's doing?

Dec 04, 2012 17:34 PM
rating: 0
 
Zeustis316

I think their thought was to take on "more responsible" contracts, while also obtaining some young, cheap talent as well, which they got in Webster and De La Rosa. PECOTA projects Victorino to be worth about 6.5 wins total over the next 3 seasons, which going with the "$5 mil = 1 FA WARP" idea, would have him projected to make about $6.5 mil more than he's "worth" during his conteact. Given the current FA market, Ellsbury's impending free agency, and that Jackie Bradley should be ready when Victorino's contract is up, I can see the logic behind the move. Whether I'd want my team investing that much money in an aging, injury prone CF is another story.

Dec 04, 2012 18:05 PM
rating: 1
 
BP staff member Matt Kory
BP staff

I don't think you can compare Gonzalez's 7 year, $154 million deal and Crawford's 7 year $142 million deal with two three year, $39 million contracts. I mean, you can, but you have to acknowledge there is a pretty wide chasm between those two groups.

Dec 04, 2012 19:28 PM
 
mmason

Buster Olney is reporting the Red Sox secured Victorino to allow more leeway for a potential Ellsbury trade for an elite SP. While there have been no official reports on which SP the Red Sox are targeting, the Phillies have been linked to a Justin Upton for Cliff Lee deal.

Red Sox fans, if the Upton-Lee deal falls through, would you feel comfortable with an Ellsbury-Lee trade? Is there another elite SP that makes more sense?

Dec 04, 2012 18:18 PM
rating: 0
 
BP staff member Matt Kory
BP staff

That would be an odd swap considering the total monies owed (tons for Lee, little for Ellsbury) and the years remaining on their current deals (tons for Lee, little for Ellsbury).

Dec 04, 2012 19:30 PM
 
SC

Felix Hernandez.

Dec 05, 2012 09:11 AM
rating: -2
 
JOARGE9481

I just don't get these last two moves by Cherington. He does all that good work with getting rid of those bad contracts, only to come right back and shell out 78 million for 3 years of Napoli and Victorino?!!? Very questionable moves.

Dec 04, 2012 21:50 PM
rating: 0
 
Ogremace

Still chump change compared to what they freed up. Still, it is curious that the players they targeted are pretty questionable. Moneywise, the Sox are hardly hindered, but what did they really gain? Napoli could crush in Fenway, but he's clearly more like an average 1B than anything Shane is sort of a Crawford light. Like R.J. said, if they do well we'll be saying it made sense, if not it'll look utterly pointless.

Dec 04, 2012 22:25 PM
rating: 0
 
tonyfranco

But context or perspective is important. In a finite market, you only can choose from what is available. The Red Sox needed a LF, RF, SS (Iglesious can't be the solution), 1B, SP, and RP.

You have to sign someone. They could go big and sign someone that would come with a big cost and equally large risk (Hamilton). When you consider that the Red Sox believe Bradley is their future CF, does going longterm and more money for Upton make sense?

Trades are always the other avenue to fill the positions. But those will come with equally high costs, but prospects and not dollars. Dollars are easy to come by, prospects are not. So trading for a player can come at a greater cost.

Dec 05, 2012 07:16 AM
rating: 2
 
prs130

I've been shocked by every contract given out this offseason. Time to recalibrate our salary expectations.

Dec 05, 2012 07:42 AM
rating: 0
 
greg26

"Whether Boston’s apparent decision to pay more for less is the right decision will depend on how Victorino performs."

Really? That's the conclusion? That sentence flies in the face of BP analysis. We're supposed to be able to posit whether it's a good decision now, rather than to wait for the results and then look back with 20/20 hindsight.

BP can do better than this.

Dec 05, 2012 19:34 PM
rating: -1
 
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