When the Boston Red Sox pulled off their franchise-altering trade with the Los Angeles Dodgers in August, general manager Ben Cherington spoke of how the club planned to be more "disciplined" going forward.
Assuming that's still the case, I can't wait to hear Cherington's rationale behind his decision to sign Shane Victorino. With the contract they've reportedly given him, the Red Sox are stretching the limits of the term "disciplined."
Nick Cafardo of The Boston Globe was the first to report that the Red Sox had a three-year offer worth $38 million out to the former Philadelphia Phillies outfielder. Ken Rosenthal of FOXSports.com came out and noted that the offer was actually worth $37.5 million. Big difference, you know.
At any rate, Alex Speier of WEEI.com was the first to report that the deal is done:
Sox have agreed with Victorino on 3yr deal— Alex Speier (@alexspeier) December 4, 2012
Indications are that Victorino will step in and play right field for the Red Sox, with Jacoby Ellsbury in center field and Jonny Gomes serving as the team's semi-full-time left fielder.
Ideally, Victorino will also be stationed at the top of Boston's lineup, perhaps in between Ellsbury and second baseman Dustin Pedroia.
However, I can't really stress the word "ideally" enough right there. Victorino is only going to be a fit for the top of John Farrell's batting order if he hits like he used to, and here, the emphasis is on "used to."
Victorino didn't hit all that much in 2012. His batting average, on-base percentage and slugging percentage all declined from where they were in 2011, with his OPS falling over 100 points from .847 all the way down to .704.
In the years since he became an everyday player in 2006, Victorino hadn't posted an OPS below .756. That's a pretty telltale sign that the 2012 season was the beginning of a decline for the 32-year-old, and it's just as concerning that things got worse for Victorino as the year moved along rather than better.
Upon joining the Dodgers in July, Victorino went on to post a slash line of .245/.316/.351 in 53 games. He was brought in to provide stability at the top of Don Mattingly's lineup, but failed miserably.
But wait, it gets worse.
Per FanGraphs, Victorino suffered from poor plate discipline in 2012, swinging at a career-high 33.5 percent of the pitches he saw outside of the strike zone. This high chase percentage contributed to a low walk percentage and a slightly elevated strikeout percentage. His BABIP dropped to .278, slightly below his career mark of .296.
The worst part was how much Victorino's power dropped off. His ISO—a stat that measures a hitter's ability to hit for extra bases—tumbled from .212 all the way to .128. That's a flashing red light that signals he may be losing some bat speed.
Yet Cherington still agreed to pay Victorino almost as much money as he agreed to pay Mike Napoli, who can be counted on for an OPS around .800 and 25 homers per year. The Red Sox will also be paying Victorino almost as much as the San Francisco Giants agreed to pay Angel Pagan, who is younger than Victorino and coming off a career year. And his contract is for four years.
For what it's worth, I had Victorino pegged as more of a $10 or $11 million-per-year player, even as the market developed into overpay city for center fielders. The Red Sox chose to give him almost $13 million per year instead.
On the bright side, the deal is only for three years, so the Red Sox don't have another Carl Crawford disaster waiting to happen on their hands.
Heck, even I can admit that there's a chance it could work out in the end. Victorino's deal will be a steal if he reverts to where he was in 2011. If he becomes even the steady producer that he was between 2006 and 2010, the Red Sox will have no reason to complain about his contract.
Furthermore, Alex Speier brought up a good point when he noted that Victorino could be shifted to center field if Jacoby Ellsbury is dealt any time between now and the trade deadline. And since his deal is only for three years and he can be easily moved around, he won't block top-prospect Jackie Bradley Jr. from becoming an impact player at the major-league level.
But if you happen to be feeling optimistic at the moment, you had best pump your brakes. The notion of Victorino providing good value for his nearly $40 million contract hinges on him not being as woefully mediocre as he was in 2012.
If last season wasn't a fluke, well, yikes.
If Victorino can't turn things around, he won't be much good for the Red Sox as a potential replacement for Ellsbury or as a placeholder for Bradley, either. His 2012 performance suggests pretty strongly that he's closer to being a fourth outfielder than he is to being the All-Star starter that he used to be.
As such, he won't have any value on the field or on the trade market if he continues to fall apart. The Red Sox could have to eat a sizable chunk of Victorino's deal if they do decide to get rid of him somewhere down the line. Either that, or they'll just have to pay him and grumble to themselves while he does nothing to earn his checks.
Relative to the club's revenue stream and how much payroll space it has, Victorino's deal certainly can be perceived to be a "low-risk" signing (albeit barely). And since 2012 may have been a fluke, it can also be characterized as a "high-reward" signing.
But if that's the kind of signing the Red Sox were after to fill out their outfield depth chart, why not aim much lower on the risk front? Instead of Victorino, why not Scott Hairston, Nate McLouth, Nate Schierholtz or incumbent right fielder Cody Ross? He's been reported to only want $25 million over three years, but the Red Sox paid far more money than that over the same amount of years to a player they don't know they can rely on.
Or the Red Sox could have just stayed in house and finally given Ryan Kalish a shot. He's had a rough couple of years, but he's still too young to be labeled a lost cause.
The point is that the Red Sox didn't have to gamble on Victorino. There were other options out there with less risk and smaller price tags attached to their names. There were also options with higher price tags and better abilities (see Swisher, Nick) that could have been brought aboard.
It's easy to see why the Red Sox chose to gamble on Victorino. It's harder to see why they, in all their wisdom and discipline, figured that he was worth a $37.5 million roll of the dice.
This signing won't cripple the Red Sox, but they could come to regret it.
In other words, it's precisely the kind of signing they wanted to stay away from.
Note: Stats courtesy of Baseball-Reference.com unless otherwise noted.
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