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Shane Victorino, Nick Swisher, Shin-Soo Choo and the Red Sox search for an outfielder

12.03.12 at 4:59 pm ET
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NASHVILLE, Tenn. — The Red Sox addressed their top priority when they reached an agreement with Mike Napoli. There was a dearth of quality free agent first basemen on the market, and even fewer who wouldn’t require the team that signed them to sacrifice a draft pick as compensation. Now, with Napoli on board, the Sox’ other area of positional need should feature very different rules of engagement.

Even as the center fielders are coming off the board, with B.J. Upton having signed, Denard Span having been traded by the Twins and Angel Pagan reportedly nearing a return to the Giants, there remain a number of free agent and trade options in the outfield market. Josh Hamilton is there for the taking. So is Nick Swisher. So is Shane Victorino. And Cody Ross. And Ryan Ludwick. The Diamondbacks continue to be open to a deal involving Justin Upton. The Indians are dangling Shin-Soo Choo. And on… and on.

With Napoli on board, the Sox now feature a roster that is deeeeeep in right-handed hitters. Napoli joins Dustin Pedroia, Will Middlebrooks, David Ross, Jonny Gomes and potentially Jose Iglesias among the team’s right-handed options. The team does hope to achieve a measure of balance, finding some left-handed options (or switch-hitters) to complement what it’s already assembled. The team also would like to find a strong defensive right fielder (essentially, someone who is capable of playing center but with the arm for right).

While no one will say that the door is closed to a return by Cody Ross, his skill set — right-handed hitter with adequate but not standout defense in right — increasingly looks like it might not be a match for the team’s needs. Ludwick, who is even more limited defensively, would seem an even more imperfect fit.

Assuming that the Sox don’t end up getting heavily involved in the Hamilton sweepstakes, then Victorino and Swisher look like the best potential fits among the free agent pool. Both are switch-hitters, though it’s worth noting that Victorino was dramatically worse in 2012 against right-handers (.229/.296/.333/.629) than left-handers (.323/.388/.518/.906), following his career splits. Swisher, meanwhile, was outstanding against righties (.273/.356/.517/.873) last year but, while he posted strong on-base marks against lefties, his power didn’t show up (.270/.380/.389/.769). That’s consistent with his career, during which he’s had more power as a left-handed hitter and more patience as a right-handed hitter.

The Sox like the fact that Swisher has the positional versatility to play right or first base. Victorino, meanwhile, would represent a player with the defense to play right as well as a strong fallback option in center should Jacoby Ellsbury be unavailable.

The Sox, according to one source familiar with the team’s thinking, are open to the idea of Victorino on a three-year deal. That, after all, is the likely cost of admission for serious talks about a player who is 32 years old. Such a deal would not only give the Sox a starting right fielder (and alternate center fielder for Ellsbury this year and Jackie Bradley Jr. in 2014 and beyond), but it would also buy time for the likes of Bryce Brentz to develop. (After Brentz and Bradley, no Sox outfielder projects to be a big league-ready regular for at least a couple years.) A fourth year would represent a somewhat less comfortable proposition, however, particularly given that Victorino is coming off his worst season even in terms of average, OBP, slugging and OPS.

How far the team might go on Swisher remains to be seen (though it’s worth noting that Swisher would cost the team a draft pick), though it looks like his market may not gain clarity until later in the offseason, as colleague Rob Bradford notes that Swisher might not sign until after Josh Hamilton lands somewhere; Swisher would represent a top fallback for teams in the market for Hamilton.

In some respects, the left-handed Choo — who hit .283/.373/.441/.815 in 2012, with a .289/.381/.465/.847 career line — might represent the best fit of all, though the Indians are understandably holding out for a significant ransom in a potential trade, something that the Sox might be reluctant to pay for a player who would be under team control for only one season before reaching free agency.

Read More: 2012 Hot Stove, Nick Swisher, Shane Victorino, Shin-Soo Choo
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