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A look at the Red Sox’ interest in outfielders

12.07.10 at 2:54 pm ET
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LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. — Red Sox GM Theo Epstein made clear that his club could proceed in a number of directions in addressing its outfield.

–The team could stand pat, using the same corps of J.D. Drew, Jacoby Ellsbury, Mike Cameron and Ryan Kalish that it already has under contract.

–The team could pursue a “complementary move” for a player that would permit them to send Kalish back to the minors.

–Though Epstein did not articulate the possibility, the Sox could also still make a splash and pursue Carl Crawford, far and away the best outfielder on the market.

So, realistically, where do things stand? Based on conversations with a handful of industry sources, here is a look at some of the options that exist.

THE CARL CRAWFORD SWEEPSTAKES

There has been some suggestion that the seven-year, $126 million deal that Jayson Werth signed with the Nationals could take the Sox out of the market for Crawford. And if both Crawford and the industry ends up using Werth’s deal as a baseline to affix a value to Crawford, perhaps resulting in something along the lines of an eight-year, $160 million deal, then it seems likely that the Sox would pass on the dynamic left fielder.

But, according to multiple sources, it is premature to say there is no chance that the Sox sign Crawford. They have no doubt determined what they consider a fair value for the outfielder. If he is open to taking a deal on those terms, they could land him. But, as the Sox have demonstrated already this offseason with Victor Martinez, they are willing to affix a value to a player’s services — even one who they really like — and walk away if he wants (and gets) more from elsewhere.

“Do you have the guts to walk away and get criticized for it, knowing it’s the right thing?” Epstein said in talking about contracts. “Some organizations do, some don’t.”

The Sox have suggested they are looking for a right-handed hitting outfielder, but it is hard to see the Sox walking away from Crawford simply because he is left-handed. Indeed, Epstein disputed the notion that a team can be too left-handed on Monday night. So, the Sox will no doubt continue to explore the former Rays star, but whether there is a financial fit remains to be seen, with several teams (notably including the Angels, and potentially the Yankees and Rangers) still interested in the top position player on the market.

In addition to the Werth deal, the market for Crawford, one source noted, is also complicated by the fact that it likely hinges on what happens with starter Cliff Lee. Teams that are in the mix for Lee could turn their attentions to Crawford if they lose out on the left-hander. So the Crawford situation could take time to resolve.

THE TRADE MARKET: JOSH WILLINGHAM AND CARLOS BELTRAN

The Nationals definitely have made outfielder Josh Willingham available. Offensively, he has long fit the profile of what the Sox look for. He has a career .367 OBP and .841 OPS while averaging 25 homers per 162 games for the Marlins and Nationals.

That said, while the Sox would certainly explore the market for the 31-year-old, it might be difficult for them to give up a meaningful prospect in return. He did not play last year after Aug. 15, and he ultimately required surgery on his left knee. So, there are health questions, which in turn also translate into performance questions, though he is described as an adequate defensive outfielder. At the same time, he will likely pull in what one source estimated to be a salary of roughly $6 million. So, he represents a player for whom a team might be reluctant to give up a valuable, major league-ready pitching prospect. In the case of the Sox, sources were skeptical that the team would consider dealing Felix Doubront in order to acquire the outfielder, who will be a free agent after the 2011 season.

Carlos Beltran will likely be a player whose availability the Sox would discuss with the Mets. The switch-hitter hit .255/.341/.427/.768 last year in his return from knee surgery, though he had huge numbers (.321/.365/.603/.967 with five homers) in Sept. One talent evaluator said that it appeared that he wasn’t able to rely as much on his lower half as he had in the past, resulting in less power. Even so, the Mets are open to discussing potential deals for Beltran, who had impressive stats (.292/.364/.646/1.009) in his 55 plate appearances against lefties.

So, according to multiple major league sources familiar with the sides’ thinking, the 33-year-old will be at least worth discussing with the Mets. But the cost of acquisition — both in terms of the amount of money that the Sox would have to absorb of his $18 million salary next year (the final year of his seven-year, $119 million deal) and in terms of the player(s) that would have to go to the Mets — would be relevant. As of mid-day, there had not been any substantive talks between the Sox and Mets about Beltran.

THE OTHER FREE AGENTS

Magglio Ordonez is certainly on the Sox’ radar as a potential fit for their complementary outfield vacancy. He was a very productive hitter for the Tigers last year (.303/.378/.474/.852) before suffering a season-ending fracture of his ankle. The status of his recovery from that procedure would represent a significant consideration for a team that pursues him. So, too, would the dollars and years sought by the Scott Boras client.

He could be an impressive lineup addition, capable of delivering thump, especially against left-handers, against whom the 36-year-old hit .371/.457/.714/1.171 last year. But will he be seeking an $8-10 million deal, or even a multi-year deal, coming off of surgery? Price could certainly be a sticking point for the long-time resident of the AL Central.

Matt Diaz is also on the market after being non-tendered by the Braves. He is described as something of a lesser version of Willingham, a hitter who has been productive in three of the last five years, but who suffered through a down 2010, hitting .250/.302/.438/.739, though he did have an .830 OPS against lefties. His outfield defense is viewed as being below average.

Read More: carl crawford, carlos beltran, Hot Stove, josh willingham Print  |  Email  |  Bark It Up!  |  Digg It
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