Mike Cameron Content With Backup Role, Could Be Main Component for 2011 Sox

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Mike Cameron Content With Backup Role, Could Be Main Component for 2011 Sox
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Last week, WEEI's Alex Speier reported that Mike Cameron had no wish to leave Boston. Despite an offseason that clearly puts Cameron as the fourth OF on a solid outfield—both offensively and defensively—the 38-year-old vet with 16 years of MLB service is content with his role as a backup.

The Red Sox have listened to offers for Cameron and probably will continue to do so for the rest of the offseason. After all, Cameron is due a hefty $7.25 million for the remainder of 2011.

However, it's no shock that a team might not be willing to take on the large contract of an aging outfielder, and Cameron could very well open the season on the Red Sox 25-man roster.

Last season was a bit of a struggle, to say the least, for both Cameron and the Red Sox. Cameron appeared in just 48 games all season long, the lowest total since he became a full time player in 1997 and only the second time he's played less than 100 games in a season (2005 the only other season).

In all, he made just 162 at bats, batting .259/.328/.401/.729, with four HR and 15 RBI. He struggled with injuries for most of the season, suffering from kidney stones early on and eventually succumbing to an abdomen tear when he received the season-ending surgery in June.

Perhaps the biggest surprise, however, was Cameron’s shoddy defense. Even before injuries hampered his mobility, Cameron had problems fielding in Fenway Park. He made two errors in just 392.0 innings of work, and his UZR/150 was an atrocious -28.2.

It makes a good deal of sense for Cameron to want to stay in Boston. After a lackluster 2010, the fact that he is making a good deal of money on a championship contender is quite fortunate.

However, Cameron has an unique opportunity going forward in 2011. If he opens the season with the Red Sox, he has a good chance to make a significant impact, albeit in a reserve role.

It’s no secret that the Red Sox have a large number of left-handed batters in their lineup. All three outfielders are left-handed, in addition to DH David Ortiz. Cameron has the skillset to fill in for all four of these players on a regular basis. He also provides a failsafe if Ortiz isn’t able to get it going, or if Ellsbury struggles initially after missing so much time.

We could see Tito use him as a regular pinch-hitter for either Ellsbury or Drew. And given Drew’s considerable struggles against left-handed pitching, Cameron has the potential to emerge in a quasi-platoon split in right field:

Against LHP 2010: 149 AB, 4 HR, 19 RBI, .208/.302/.309/.611.

Cameron has to improve his defense if he wants to be relied on as a late-inning pinch hitter. All three starting outfielders for the Sox are great defenders, so it won’t fare well for Cameron if he’s unable to perform in the field late in the game.

However, Cameron is also a three-time Gold Glove winner and has consistently been one of the better defensive outfielders in baseball. Given the fact that he was injured early on, he was never able to gain any form of consistency in the field.

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His bat is exactly what they need, however: a power-hitting righty who can occasionally fill in for the numerous lefties occupying the lineup.

Cameron actually gave them pretty good offensive effort during the month of July last season, albeit in a very small sample size:

July: 60 AB, 3 HR, 7 RBI, .250/.333/.483/.817 batting line.

That’s the type of offensive production the Sox were looking for when they signed him initially. If they can get that in a backup role, then Cameron will be golden, so long as he fixes his defense.

Cameron is going to get the opportunity to become an integral part of the 2011 Red Sox championship run. Hopefully for Red Sox fans, he makes good.

Dan is a Boston Red Sox Featured Columnist. For more news, stories, and opinion, follow him on twitter at danhartelBR.

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