By Jeff Louderback
Red Sox general manager Ben Cherington is checking off his to-do list one at a time at the Major League Baseball Winter Meetings. On Monday, Boston announced the signing of Mike Napoli to a three-year, $39 million deal. Today, the Red Sox added outfielder Shane Victorino on a three-year, $39 million contract, according to multiple media reports.
The 32-year-old Victorino, who is a switch hitter and proficiently plays all three outfield spots, will be primarily used in right field, but he can fill in for Jacoby Ellsbury in center field as well.
Victorino gives the Red Sox an outfielder with a strong arm, a versatile bat who can produce runs, reach base and steal bases. Though he was hampered by a hand injury in 2012, when he hit .255 with 11 home runs and 55 RBI between Philadelphia and the Los Angeles Dodgers, the “Flyin’ Hawaiian” recorded 39 stolen bases and in 2011 he batted .279 with a .847 OPS, 17 home runs, 61 RBI, 19 stolen bases and 16 triples for the Phillies.
Like catcher David Ross and outfielder Jonny Gomes, Victorino is well-respected for his clubhouse presence and leadership abilities. Victorino will likely get most of the starts in right field while Gomes will probably platoon with Ryan Kalish, the 24-year-old prospect who is expected to be fully recovered from shoulder and neck injuries that limited his at-bats in 2011 and 2012.
Kalish is a left-handed hitter who can effectively play all three outfield spots. The right-handed hitting Gomes mashes left-handed pitching but is below average in the field, so Kalish will also likely see time as a late-inning defensive replacement.
The Red Sox could choose to have Kalish open the 2013 campaign at Triple-A Pawtucket to get some regular at-bats and call him up mid-season. If they do this, then the club could sign or acquire a fourth outfielder this offseason.
Since Victorino did not receive a qualifying offer from the Dodgers, the Red Sox do not have to surrender their top draft pick, which is a second round choice since the first round selection (7th overall) is protected next summer.
Signing Victorino instead of Nick Swisher or Josh Hamilton, both of whom reportedly want four or more years, gives the Red Sox more freedom to insert top outfield prospects like Jackie Bradley, Bryce Brentz and even Xander Bogaerts (if he is moved to the outfield from shortstop).