It's never too early to start thinking about what the team might look like in 2013 and beyond, especially given that incumbent right fielder Nick Swisher is likely to depart as a free agent this winter.
Nick Cafardo of The Boston Globe reports that while Cody Ross would like to stay in Boston, two other big-market teams, the Phillies and the Yankees, have significant interest in signing the right fielder if he reaches free agency this winter.
Ross, who celebrates his 32nd birthday in December, is in the midst of a solid season for the Red Sox. In 122 games, Ross has a batting line of .270/.333/.491 with 21 home runs and 77 RBI—numbers that are very similar to Swisher's batting line of .262/.352/.460 with 22 home runs and 85 RBI over 138 games.
With runners in scoring position, a spot that has killed the Yankees for much of the season, their numbers are relatively close:
Ross: 152 PA, .313/.377/.565 with 8 HR and 60 RBI.
Swisher: 164 PA, .280/.387/.568 with 10 HR and 68 RBI.
So, if they are essentially the same player with a bat in their hands, how can I argue that Ross is the better choice for the Yankees, especially given that Swisher is a fan-favorite and a phenomenal presence in the clubhouse?
Three things make Ross the better choice.
While Swisher has steadily improved his defense in right field, he has a relatively benign 1.9 UZR/150 and a less-than-stellar minus-two DRS. Ross' DRS isn't much better at two, but his 7.5 UZR/150 would mark a significant improvement in the Yankees' outfield defense (h/t FanGraphs).
Everyone is well aware of Swisher's struggles in the postseason, and while Ross has not experienced nearly as much postseason action as Swisher has, there is a stark difference in production:
Ross (2010 with Giants): 15 G, 59 PA, .294/.390/.686, 5 HR, 10 RBI.
Swisher (with the Yankees): 28 G, 114 PA, .160/.254/.330, 4 HR, 5 RBI.
It's not even close. Ross is significantly more productive in essentially half the playing time.
Finally, and most importantly from the business side of baseball, is the cost.
Swisher, making $10.25 million this season, is going to command close to $15 million a season on the open market—and chances are that someone is going to come close to meeting such a price.
Ross, making $3 million this season, figures to come in around somewhere between the three-year, $21 million deal that Josh Willingham signed with the Twins and the three-year, $31.5 million deal that the Rockies gave to Michael Cuddyer.
No matter how you crunch the numbers, it's clear that Cody Ross is the man who should be patrolling right field in the Bronx when the 2013 season gets underway.