Boston Red Sox: 5 Outside-the-Box Outfield Options

Frank LennonCorrespondent IDecember 19, 2011

Boston Red Sox: 5 Outside-the-Box Outfield Options

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    As one after another of the free agent outfielders signs with other teams, should Red Sox Nation be worried?

    After all, one of the top items on the offseason wish list was another outfielder with some pop, preferably someone who could play right while the BoSox sorted out the Kalish/Reddick situation.

    Then the Phillies traded for Ty Wigginton, and the Indians re-signed Grady Sizemore. Josh Willingham has signed with the Twins and Michael Cuddyer agreed to terms with the Rockies, and David DeJesus went to the Cubs.

    Dodgers' GM Ned Colletti told ESPN's Jim Bowden in October that he isn't inclined to trade Andre Ethier, and even if he did, the asking price would probably be more than the Red Sox would be willing to pay. Besides, Ethier hits left-handed, and the Red Sox would prefer a right-handed bat.

    The biggest names still out there are Carlos Quentin, Carlos Beltran and Jason Kubel. 

    Quentin is still relatively young; signed out of Stanford by the Diamondbacks, he's only 29, and 2011 was his sixth big-league season.

    The White Sox control his rights for one more year. He is third-year arbitration eligible, earned a little over $5 million for 2011. He projects to earn in the vicinity of $7.5 million for 2012.

    Although he did not hit for average, he did hit 107 home runs in his four years with Chicago, so he has some pop. He has a career slugging percentage of .490, and an OPS of .836.

    The Sox went hard after Quentin before this year’s trade deadline—although some of that interest undoubtedly stemmed from the fact that Quentin had an excellent first half.

    And therein lies the rub. His last two months were funk-like and forgettable, and his season ended after he suffered a nagging injury (sprained AC joint in his left shoulder) which just never completely healed. He played only seven innings of Chicago's last 37 games.

    William Yoder of the Nats Blog points out that while Quentin's power numbers aren't bad when projected out to a 162-game season, the problem is that he never plays 162 games. "In fact over the past three years, he has averaged just 116 games each year."

    Multiple trips to the DL over the last four years should make the Red Sox extremely cautious about Quentin, especially given the injury problems they had with J. D. Drew.

    Switch-hitting outfielder Carlos Beltran is the fourth-best hitter to become a free agent in 2011, behind Albert Pujols, Prince Fielder and Jose Reyes. Beltran will be 35 next year, but he is still an all-around performer who can produce. However, knee injuries cost him parts of the 2009 and 2010 seasons, which may make some teams cautious about a multi-year deal. 

    Boston—where he would have a real shot at a World Series—would seem to fit the bill. Beltran is a powerful switch-hitting outfielder who can still play well defensively. However, Beltran’s 2011 salary was $18.5 million. Even considering his age and injury issues it is still likely that he will command about $15 million per year on a multi-year deal in a situation that is to his liking. 

    Given the Red Sox problem with the luxury tax for 2012 and 2013, I strongly doubt they are prepared to take on that much new salary on a multi-year deal.

    Jason Kubel is a name that has been mentioned in some circles because he's only 29, but he's another left-handed batter who hit only 12 HR last year for the Twins. He's a Type B free agent who declined Minnesota’s offer of arbitration.

    The Red Sox did put in a waiver claim for him last summer, but Kubel is overpriced and does not fit the Red Sox needs.

    So, I think it's time to look beyond those names and find alternatives. The suggestions to follow may not be ideal long-term solutions, but each offers a short term benefit.

    Besides, the outfield free agent class for 2012 is particularly strong (Quentin, Curtis Granderson, Josh Hamilton, Torii Hunter, B. J. Upton, Shane Victorino among others), so the best solution for the Red Sox might be to mark time for a year…or at least until the trading deadline.

    Here are five ways to do that…and in some cases, kill two birds with one stone.

1. Matt Murton, Hanshin Tigers

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    Matt Murton, now playing for the Hanshin Tigers in Japan, is the answer to a great trivia question: Name the other player the Red Sox gave up in the blockbuster 2004 deal involving Nomar Garciaparra.

    Murton played just 155 games in the Red Sox organization before the trade, but during that time he exhibited the ability to get on base that has been the hallmark of his career. 

    By 2006, he was starting for the Cubs, and that year he hit .297 with 13 HRs in 144 games.

    Unfortunately for Murton, the Cubs were seeking more power in their outfield; bringing in Cliff Floyd and Alfonso Soriano left little room for Murton. Over the next couple of years the former Georgia Tech outfielder bounced through the As' and Rockies' organizations, never getting enough action to merit a full-time major league job.

    Believing that he needed to hit every day to show what he could do, Murton signed with the Hanshin Tigers. In his first year he became only the fourth player in Nippon Professional Baseball history to have a 200-hit season, and he broke Ichiro Suzuki's single season record   by stroking 214 hits in 144 games.

    Not surprisingly, he won the NPB batting title that year with a .349 average,  He also contributed 17 home runs and 91 RBIs, to go along with an on-base percentage of .395, a .499 slugging percentage and an .894 OPS.

    With the powerful Red Sox lineup surrounding him, Murton's ability to constantly get on base could make him an intriguing option. He is an above-average corner outfielder who could step right into the Red Sox lineup. He's an on-base machine, and there are a lot of similarities with Wade Boggs—another talented hitter who languished in the minors for several years before being given his chance. 

    While Murton will not equal Boggs' Hall of Fame 162-game average stat line of .328 with a .415 on base percentage, he does have greater power potential than Boggs, who averaged eight HR and 67 RBI per season. Murton does have a shot at equaling or exceeding Boggs' .443 slugging percentage and .858 OPS.

    He continued to hit well in 2011, his option year, and Hanshin wants him back. There are reports out of Japan that he has agreed to return, but every indication is that Murton hopes that his performance in Japan has earned him another shot at MLB

    In addition, he would not require a large contract; he earned $1.5 million in Japan this year.

2. Cody Ross, San Francisco Giants (Free Agent)

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    Cody Ross, one of the rare birds who bats right and throws left, became an instant hero in San Francisco when he virtually single-handedly dismantled the Philadelphia Phillies in the 2010 NLCS, hitting .350 with three HR and three doubles in the six-game series to earn the series MVP award. He had hit an earlier home run against Atlanta in the NLDS and added one in the World Series against Texas for good measure.

    The Giants had picked up Ross, a little-known Florida Marlins outfielder, from the waiver scrap heap in late August. Although he hit five HR in the postseason, he had hit only 14 for the whole year.

    Ross was originally signed by Detroit, but he has played all but six of his 757 career games in the National League. He has been with five teams in the past eight seasons.

    Ross, who made $6.3 million last year, was not offered arbitration by the Giants.

    As Ben Nicholson-Smith wrote on, Ross would have been better off hitting free agency a year ago instead of now. His numbers aren't that much different, but in 2011 the buzz is gone, and he doesn't get the bump this year for his postseason heroics.

    After a pretty good 2010 season, when he hit .269 (.288 with the Giants) with 28 doubles, 14 HR and 65 RBI), the 30-year old outfielder regressed in 2011—as did many on the Giants roster. He hit just .240, with injuries at the start and close of the season that took him out of the lineup.

    While his 2011 slugging percentage and OPS were also well below his career average, he did raise his base on balls percentage and showed his flexibility by playing all three outfield positions. He also has a history of hitting well in the clutch; he has a career average of .278 hitting late in close games.

    While Ross wanted a long-term extension with the Giants at the start of the 2011 season, that did not happen. Some team will probably take a flyer on him on a one-year deal—especially a team looking for a right-handed bat. Ross has hit relatively well in the clutch, and he has also done well against lefties in his career, compiling a .912 OPS against southpaws.  

    He would not be a bad option on a one-year deal.

3. Marlon Byrd, Chicago Cubs

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    The Cubs have a log jam in their outfield, and while they would love to dump Alfonso Soriano's contract, that is unlikely to happen. In order to make room for major-league ready prospect Brett Jackson, Theo Epstein might be willing to trade veteran outfielder Marlon Byrd.

    Byrd will be a free agent at the end of the 2012 season, so moving him now makes sense.

    Marlon Byrd is 34, a career .281 hitter with a .759 OPS. He's above-average defensively, and perhaps more important for the Red Sox, he is viewed as a leader and a very positive force in the clubhouse. He is also well liked and respected by Cubs fans and the Windy City media.

    While his production has slowly dropped off in recent years, he could hold down right field in Fenway (and add a positive presence in a troubled clubhouse) for the 2012 season.

    Yes, he is a center fielder by trade, but he has played 100 games in right (and 134 games in left) in his career. In fact, he has hit .309 while playing right field.

    On his "Byrd's Nest" blog, Byrd recently expressed a willingness to move to right to make room for the youngster Jackson if that was deemed to be in the best interests of the team. Satchel Price of SB has suggested the Cubs trade Byrd now to open up a spot for Jackson.

    Ben Cherington and Theo Epstein should get together on this deal that makes sense for both teams.

4. Aubrey Huff, San Francisco Giants

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    OK, why would the Red Sox want Aubrey Huff, a left-handed hitter who (like the rest of the Giants) had a major drop off in production in 2011? 

    If that's not bad enough, Huff has a fat contract (he is owed $10 million for 2012, with a team option for the same amount in 2013—or a $2 million buyout). The deal does not include a no-trade clause, tweets Jon Paul Morosi of FOX Sports. To make matters worse, he is known more as a first baseman or third baseman (or even as a DH) than as an outfielder.

    Remember, though, these are "outside the box" options, so bear with me here.

    In 2010 he hit .290/.385/.506 in 668 plate appearances for the World Champion Giants.

    The reason he would come to Boston is because the Red Sox want one of the Giants stud pitchers, such as Lincecum, Cain or even Bumgarner. The only way I see such a trade happening is for Boston as part of the deal to take one or more of San Francisco's burdensome contracts off the Giants' hands—such as Huff's.

    If you look at him as the price of admission for a front-line starter, plugging him into right field for a year becomes more palatable. He has, after all, played 337 games as an outfielder (mostly in right).

    Huff is a career .279 hitter, with an OPS of .808. More importantly, he knows the AL East well, having played 10 years for the Rays and Orioles. He has hit reasonably well at Fenway: .266 lifetime in 72 games. Perhaps more importantly, he has hit .286 against the Yankees and .290 against Tampa.

    He would be a placeholder while Reddick and/or Kalish develop, or until the Red Sox sign a major free agent from the Class of 2013.

5. Ichiro Suzuki, Seattle Mariners

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    The way Ichiro Suzuki comes to Boston is as part of a deal for Felix Hernandez. 

    Hear me out on this one before you dismiss it out of hand.

    I know that every previous offer for right-handed starter Felix Hernandez has been rebuffed by Seattle, and he supposedly wants to finish his career there, but here’s a road map for getting a deal done. 

    The Red Sox & Mariners Should Do a Deal for Felix Hernandez

    A key incentive for the Mariners to do such a deal is for the Red Sox to take on the last year of Ichiro's contract, which could make it easier for Seattle to sign Prince Fielder.

    Ichiro had a sub-par season in 2011, he is 38 years old, and he is due $17 million for 2012, the last year of his contract. While the Mariners will be careful not to diss one of the best players in franchise history, they would welcome the chance to get out from under Ichiro's huge contract.

    As a 10/5 player (10 years in MLB, five with the same team), Ichiro can't be traded without his consent. But the opportunity to win a World Series before he retires may cause him to accept a trade.

    Dealing Ichiro would require Seattle to do it in a way that saved face, both for Ichiro and the team, especially since the principal owner of the Mariners is Japanese. Hiroshi Yamauchi, the largest shareholder in Nintendo Corporation, would have to be able to justify the trade.

    The solution to that problem is…Daisuke Matsuzaka goes to Seattle as part of the deal.

    By including Daisuke in the deal, the Red Sox could soften the blow to the large Japanese community in the Pacific Northwest. Matsuzaka is also in the final year of his contract, under which he is due $10 million. 

    Daisuke has started six games in Seattle and has posted an ERA of 3.05.

    Yes, he is on the disabled list, but that is not an obstacle to a trade. So long as the receiving team is willing to accept a disabled player, the commissioner's office can approve the deal.

    The Red Sox could include a performance clause to protect Seattle in case Matsuzaka does not come back as hoped from Tommy John surgery. If he does come back, Seattle will have gained another, younger, Japanese icon with some upside.

    There are 17 million reasons for Seattle to part with Ichiro now. Also, he’s nearing the end of the road, and there are questions about his clubhouse role with a decidedly younger roster. 

    Art Thiel of the Seattle PI wrote an article last July entitled, “Mariners Need to Move Ichiro, Felix Now”.

    His conclusion? “The overwhelming mediocrity throughout MLB presents a great opportunity for the M’s to get well at several positions. All it takes is guts.”

    Yes, there is the Japanese culture issue, and the need to save face for both Ichiro and principal owner Yamauchi. As I understand it, Yamauchi is now 84—who knows how much longer he will be in the picture? If I understand local reports correctly, he has never even been to a single game. Ichiro is clearly his favorite player.

    A deft way to solve that problem for both men is to present this deal as a way to give Suzuki his best chance of winning a championship before he retires. At the same time, the Red Sox replace Ichiro with a younger Japanese icon in the form of Daisuke.

    From the Red Sox perspective, the opportunity to be on a winning team with a chance to go to the World Series might revitalize Ichiro for a year or two. As Thiel wrote, “During [Ichiro’s] time here, it’s fair to speculate that the biggest issue affecting his performance is all the turmoil and losing. The Mariners’ failures have to eat at a guy whose professional standards are so high.”

    It certainly would not trouble me to see Suzuki patrolling right field in Fenway. He still has his speed, and one of the best outfield arms in the game. The commitment would only be for one year, but who knows? It could be a marriage made in heaven.