After close calls, Cameron finally lands in Boston
The Red Sox placed Manny Ramirez on waivers after the 2003 season in the hope that another team would claim him and the money saved could be used to remake the roster.
One of the dominoes general manager Theo Epstein had lined up was signing free agent outfielder Mike Cameron. The Sox, Epstein told agent Mike Nicotera at the time, were prepared to make the highest offer.
But Ramirez went unclaimed and Cameron signed with the Mets. The Red Sox tried to land Cameron several times in the years that followed, bringing his name up in trade discussions.
“I knew that Theo appreciated what kind of player Mike was, so in the back of my mind I always wondered if he would end up in Boston,’’ Nicotera said. “But sometimes those things never work out.’’
This time, it did. When the Red Sox balked at the contract demands of Jason Bay, they turned to Cameron and quickly made a two-year deal that was announced yesterday.
Cameron will be paid $15.5 million over the course of the contract. He received a $1 million signing bonus and will receive yearly salaries of $7.25 million. He also has limited no-trade protection.
“When I heard they were interested, I called around and asked people what they thought,’’ said Cameron, who reached out to, among others, former Sox outfielder Cliff Floyd. “I liked what I heard.’’
Cameron, who turns 37 in January, has known Red Sox manager Terry Francona since 1991. Both were with the White Sox then, Cameron an 18-year-old draft pick and Francona the first-year hitting coach. Francona remembers watching Cameron’s parents drop him off in Sarasota, Fla.
“He always used to tell us that if we can’t figure this out now that you’ll be one of the prime candidates to be working at 7-Eleven,’’ Cameron said of Francona.
The two connected again with Cameron playing for Francona in Single and Double A. It was Francona who told Cameron he had been promoted to the majors in 1995.
“There’s a lot of trust in that relationship,’’ Nicotera said by telephone from his office in New Jersey. “And Cam knows what Theo thinks of him as well.’’
Because of that faith, Cameron has told the Red Sox he is comfortable with letting the team decide where he plays. A center fielder for the majority of his career with three Gold Gloves, Cameron could play left for the Sox.
“The numbers speak for themselves. I still feel that I’m able to move around pretty good and I played probably one of the better center fields this year that I’ve played in a long time,’’ said Cameron, who pointed out with a smile that the wall in left field didn’t move when he ran into it in 2001.
Francona plans to discuss the situation with Cameron, Jacoby Ellsbury, Epstein, and bench coach DeMarlo Hale in the coming weeks.
“We’ll sit down and try to put the right pieces in the right place,’’ Francona said. “I have some ideas on it, but I want to talk to everybody first.’’
But one of the reasons the Red Sox signed Cameron was his willingness to play left field for a contender.
“Once Mike expressed that attitude, it really got our attention and realized that he could be an important part of the outfield if things fell a certain way,’’ Epstein said.
Said Nicotera, “Mike is still one of the better center fielders in the game. I keep telling him he’s a freak. But he’s willing to abide by whatever their assessment is.’’
According to Epstein, the team has yet to reach out to Ellsbury. “I don’t think there’s a clear best answer. We can’t go wrong no matter which way we align our outfield defense,’’ Epstein said.
Cameron hit .250 with 24 home runs and 70 RBIs for the Brewers last season and struck out 156 times. Because he is a righthanded pull hitter, the Sox believe Cameron will fit well at Fenway Park, and are willing to live with the strikeouts.
“That doesn’t scare us. We have a lot of productive hitters here who have struck out a lot,’’ Epstein said. “Strikeouts are OK as long as they come, as they often do, with walks and home runs. And in Mike’s case, they certainly do.’’
Amalie Benjamin of the Globe staff contributed to this report; Peter Abraham can be reached at email@example.com.