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New market reality: A look at Shane Victorino deal and how it fits Red Sox’ plans

NASHVILLE, Tenn. — The Red Sox [1] wanted a right fielder with the legitimate defensive range to play center for a few reasons. First, the team wants someone with the ability to handle Fenway Park’s expansive piece of right field real estate. Secondly, the team wants to have roster depth and flexibility to feature a solid backup plan should Jacoby Ellsbury [2] be unavailable at any point in 2013 or for Jackie Bradley Jr. come 2014. And, if the team either trades Ellsbury this year or if Bradley — contrary to expectations for his development path — isn’t big league ready by the start of 2014, the team needs a fallback option in center, while also getting a player who can fill the vacancy that exists in right field in 2013 and, depending on the pace of Bryce Brentz‘s development, perhaps 2014 as well.

Enter Shane Victorino [3].

According to a major league source, the Red Sox reached a three-year agreement. Reports peg the value of the deal at $39 million ($13 million a year) for the outfielder, who just turned 32 in the past week. Victorino projects, according to another source, to be the everyday right fielder for the Sox while also providing the center field protection that the team needs. The deal isn’t yet final, as he needs to take a physical for it to become official.

The contract might seem like a steep cost of admission for a player who is coming off the worst season of his career. Victorino hit .255/.321/.383/.704 with 11 homers and 39 steals in 45 attempts for the Phillies and (after a mid-year trade) Dodgers in 2012. Those marks were down considerably from a career line of .275/.341/.430/.770.

The Sox are hopeful that he can bounce back closer to career norms. But even if he doesn’t, his defense and speed on the bases give him value even if the 2012 season represented something other than an aberration. Moreover, he does not cost the Red Sox a draft pick, as he was ineligible for a one-year qualifying offer from the Dodgers after having been traded mid-year.

While Victorino is a switch-hitter and thus, in theory, could give the Sox some left-right lineup balance, he struggled badly against right-handed pitchers in 2012 (hitting .229/.296/.333/.629 against righties, and eventually trying to bat right-handed against right-handed pitchers), compared to excellent marks against lefties (.323/.388/.518/.906). That is in keeping with Victorino’s career trends. Against lefties, he’s a career .301/.373/.508/.881 hitter, while against righties, he has a .267/.330/.402/.732 line.

“There are no perfect players,” observed one team source.

That being the case, the Sox wanted to continue an offseason that has seen them address most of their needs without sacrificing their future. The team has added two outfielders (Victorino, Jonny Gomes), a first baseman (and potentially catcher) in Mike Napoli [4] and another catcher in David Ross [5] without sacrificing any prospects or draft picks. That, in turn, follows GM Ben Cherington‘s stated desire to build a strong team for 2013 without compromising the team’s long-term outlook for 2014 and beyond.

But what of the cost of Victorino’s deal? Line up the top center fielders who have signed this offseason and it doesn’t necessarily look so out of place:


B.J. Upton, Braves

Cost: 5 years, $75 million and a draft pick.

Age during contract: 28-32

2012: .246/.298/.454/.752, 28 HR, 31 SB

Career: .255/.336/.422/.758, 20 HR (162-game avg), 39 SB (162-game avg)

Angel Pagan, Giants [6]

Cost: 4 years, $40 million

Age during contract: 31-34

2012: .288/.338/.440/.778, 8 HR, 29 SB

Career: .281/.333/.424/.757, 10 HR (162-game avg), 29 SB (162-game avg)

Shane Victorino, Red Sox

Cost: 3 years, $38 million

Age during contract: 32-34

2012: .255/.321/.383/.704, 11 HR, 39 SB

Career: .275/.341/.430/.770, 14 HR (162-game avg), 30 SB (162-game avg)


So, Victorino cost slightly more per year than Pagan, but he comes off the books sooner — falling into the Sox’ blueprint of acquiring players on shorter-term deals. He also costs less per year and required fewer years than Upton — and he didn’t require the sacrifice of a draft pick.

Again, it seems expensive, but center fielders are very rarely available on the free agent market. In the previous four offseasons, the most notable center fielders to move in free agency were Coco Crisp [7], Mike Cameron [8], Marlon Byrd [9] and Willy Taveras [10]. If the Sox wanted a player capable of being a center fielder, they were going to have to pay a premium to land him.

Still, signing Victorino shouldn’t prevent the Sox from other moves. Between the departures of Adrian Gonzalez [11], Carl Crawford, Josh Beckett [12] and Nick Punto [13] in the Dodgers blockbuster, and the departures since last year of Daisuke Matsuzaka [14], Kevin Youkilis [15], Bobby Jenks [16] and others, the team had more than $100 million come off its books.

To date, while the Sox have re-signed David Ortiz [17] for a lower average annual value (AAV) than he played under last year, the team has spent approximately $34 million in terms of AAV on four free agents (Victorino, Gomez, Napoli, Ross). In other words, the team still has plenty of remaining flexibility beyond what it has spent to this point.

So far, all of the Sox’ moves have addressed areas of need. They haven’t prevented the team from being able to address other areas (starting pitcher, perhaps a shortstop, bench depth), and they haven’t cost the team either prospects or draft picks. In that context, so far, everything is proceeding according to a fairly well-defined blueprint.