With each day that passes, it seems another member of the Red Sox’ championship run that captivated the city less than a year ago is gone or done for the season.
On Tuesday we learned, to little surprise, that outfielder Shane Victorino will have season-ending surgery on his lower back. Three trips to the disabled list – two for a right hamstring strain and the latest for a slipped disc – limited the dynamic 2013 contributor to 30 largely unproductive games this season.
A year after posting one of the top-four seasons of his 11-year career, 2014 has unquestionably been Victorino’s worst since becoming a full-time starter with the Phillies in 2006. In a mere 133 plate appearances, the right fielder hit .268 with a career-low .303 on-base percentage, a .382 slugging percentage (second-worst), a .685 OPS (also second-worst), two home runs, 12 RBI, and 14 runs scored.
Making matters worse, Victorino was hurt out of the gate and missed the season’s first 22 games before being added to the active roster. Many questioned the outfielder’s motivation at the time, claiming he’d come into camp out of shape in the wake of winning his second title.
It’s interesting to note Fangraphs has a feature for each player that converts WAR (Wins Above Replacement) to a dollar scale based on what a player would command in free agency. Prior to last season, Victorino signed a three-year, $39 million deal with the Red Sox. In 2013, the site argues the outfielder effectively doubled his financial worth to the team to the tune of $28.1 mil. This season, Victorino is on the books for $13 million with a market value of about $200,000.
So, what about 2015, when Victorino is due that final sizable installment to patrol right field? Will he be ready? At 34, can he be expected to perform as he did when he was 32 (and hadn’t previously since his last All-Star appearance at the age of 30 in 2011)?
Add to that, there’s now a logjam in the outfield after a busy July 31 trade deadline in Boston. Gone are two top of the rotation pitchers; in are two more corner outfield bats in Yoenis Cespedes and Allen Craig. Jackie Bradley Jr., Daniel Nava, Brock Holt, and Mookie Betts are still on the roster.
In all likelihood, not all of the aforementioned players will be factors or even necessarily in the organization come next spring. Cespedes and Craig are both under contract for significant money and, barring a trade, will need a place to play. Bradley’s defense is unmatched, though his bat at times makes his a difficult spot to justify in the lineup. Nava is under the team’s control at reasonable dollars through 2017, and his production this season is pointing to him being better suited as a platoon player. Holt is having a standout rookie season, but probably projects to be more of a super utility player. And Betts, just 21 years young, would benefit from a full season in Triple-A, even if he finishes out this campaign with the big club.
All of this, of course, ignores the possibility of the Red Sox making an offseason move for another outfielder. Dare we say, Giancarlo Stanton?
Plenty of questions will be addressed throughout the remainder of this season, and a fair number of them revolve around expectations for Victorino in 2015.
Cespedes has played the majority of his three MLB seasons in left field, and he’s never played right. That will change with regularity over the final two months of this year. As a fielder, the Cuban power-hitter lacks grace and flair but has a cannon for an arm. The Sox want to assess if he’d be an adequate replacement for an oft-injured gold-glover.
In addition, with Cespedes in right, that will allow Craig to play left – at least when he returns from the disabled list. The former Cardinal has played more right than left in his five seasons, but shadowing the Green Monster is a simpler position at Fenway than hovering around Pesky’s Pole. Craig has enjoyed about half of his fielding duties at first base but that post projects to be occupied by Mike Napoli for at least one more season.
If Bradley’s bat comes around in the weeks to come (he’s hit .253 in 26 games since June 29), he without question deserves to be Boston’s every day center fielder next season.
Where does Victorino fit? Would the Red Sox effort a trade or simply cut him loose, eating most of his remaining salary in either case? Could he become the club’s fourth outfielder, enjoying sporadic play in right and center, even if he’s the highest-paid of the group?
Fans won’t gripe over not seeing a player who, by season’s end, will have missed 233 games over the last three years. In a sport without a salary cap and a team that regularly spends right along with the best in baseball, Victorino’s contract in 2015 won’t hurt the Sox’ chances at returning to contention, whether he’s in the dugout or being paid to play in another city.
We know what Victorino can be. In nine games since coming off the DL on July 19 – before he suffered his latest injury – he batted .344 with a home run. In 2013, one nagging injury after another limited the veteran to 122 games but, when he played, he was a gold glove winner, an MVP vote-getter, and a guy who drove in 12 runs in 14 postseason contests.
Next season, it’s a guessing game – one the Red Sox hope to have an answer to long before Opening Day rolls around.
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