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For Shane Victorino, visit to Cleveland represents what could have been

04.16.13 at 3:30 pm ET
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Shane Victorino was coming off the worst season of his career. But when he reached free agency, it didn’t feel like it. The 32-year-old encountered considerable interest in multi-year deals from multiple teams, with two positioning themselves as his most aggressive suitors.

He ended up signing, of course, with the Red Sox, who gave him a three-year, $39 million deal. However, he only landed in Boston after giving considerable thought to the possibility of joining up with the Indians, who had a four-year, $43 million deal on the table.

Cleveland made a strong pitch to Victorino, suggesting that he was part of an offseason strategy that would yield an aggressive approach to the free agent market. New Indians manager Terry Francona was part of the pitch.

“I didn’t know who was going to come calling [in free agency], but I took every offer seriously, took everything in perspective. In the end, I chose [Boston], but no hard feelings against Cleveland,” Victorino said on Monday. “You look at the moves [the Indians] made after I signed here, throughout the offseason, that made their team better — [Michael] Bourn, [Nick] Swisher. Having Terry as their manager now, a guy that has managed World Series teams’€¦ Obviously, there was definitely hopes of being a winning team there and turning things around, so there was some definite interest. There was no hard feelings anywhere. I just thought Boston might be a better fit for me.”

Victorino talked to Francona early in the free agent process. Immediately, the outfielder could understand the appeal of playing for the former Red Sox skipper.

“I told him interest is just as [strong] there as anywhere else right now,” said Victorino. “Then, obviously, I chose Boston, but throughout the process, Cleveland was in on it the whole time. Obviously, that was one of those things — I had a lot of interest, they had a lot of interest but it came down to a decision that me and my family made and that was Boston. But like I said, no hard feelings about Cleveland. It was nothing more than the fact that I wanted to play in Boston.”

So what was the appeal of Boston?

“You go back five, six years, this team was a World Series-winning team,” said Victorino. “Think about the Red Sox, you think about everything with the history — Ted Williams, [Carl] Yastrzemski, all the tradition behind this team, that makes it special. To put on this uniform, be part of that tradition, part of that culture and part of that change is definitely special.”

Victorino is off to a solid start in his time with the Red Sox. He is hitting .313 with a .358 OBP at this early stage, and he’s also delivered the quality defensive work in right field for which the Sox were hoping when they signed him. The Sox remained optimistic that the track record of the two-time All-Star and three-time Gold Glove award winner represented a better indication of his talents. And so, the opportunity to secure the services of an outfielder who could play excellent outfield defense, offer some offensive value both in the batter’s box and on the bases, who was willing to sign a deal of less than four years and who would not cost the team a draft pick in free agency represented the right combination of factors to put Victorino near the top of the club’s offseason wish list.

For his part, Victorino has no regrets about his decision to sign with the Sox. However, he remains appreciative that there was a decision to be made, that he had an opportunity to choose between multiple attractive opportunities this winter.

After he hit .255 with a .321 OBP and .383 slugging mark along with 11 homers and 39 steals in 2012, he wasn’t certain what shape the offers to him would take. The fact that he had a three-year opportunity from the Red Sox and a four-year offer on the table from Cleveland — both with average annual salaries in excess of $10 million a year — suggested that the baseball industry considered his struggles in 2012 an aberration rather than evidence of a declining skill set.

Victorino had viewed last year in a similar light. Still, it was meaningful that others — including both the Indians and Red Sox — confirmed that self-perception.

“It was great — definitely a positive to think that way,” said Victorino. “Sure, by the same token, you might say just imagine if I had done a little better. But that’s the thing — having a bad year, and still to be in the position I was in, that’s what made it even more of a blessing for me. It made me understand that you have to continue to work hard. Yeah, last year might have been a bump in the road but you’ve got to still work hard. Teams feel this way about you, the baseball world feels this way about you, that’s the kind of stuff that motivates you, pushes you to continue to strive, not take anything for granted, to understand the opportunity you get everyday to put on a major league uniform. I realize how special it is and how lucky I am everyday to put on a uniform and be able to play in a place like Boston.”

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