By Jeff Louderback
Cody Ross is affable and likable, which is why he was popular among teammates, media members and fans in his only season with the Boston Red Sox.
The 32-year-old outfielder, whose birthday is today, is a run producer at the plate, at least against left-handed pitching. In 2012, Ross clubbed 22 home runs, knocked in 81, belted 34 doubles and batted .267 with a .802 OPS.
Based on his comments after agreeing to a three-year, $26 million contract with the Arizona Diamondbacks on Saturday, Ross is also rather full of himself.
Expressing disappointment in Boston’s approach to potentially re-signing him, Ross told the media, “At some point – just to be completely honest with you guys – they thought I was going to come back no matter what. That I loved playing there, and I did. It’s a great park. It’s Fenway Park. How can you not love playing at Fenway, going to work every day there? But I just wanted to be treated fairly. I wasn’t asking to be overpaid. I didn’t want to break the bank and they weren’t willing to do it. I’m sure there’s reasons why. I don’t know why. You have to ask them why. It just didn’t work out.”
Why didn’t the Red Sox give Ross the three years he was seeking? It’s simple. Ross is best suited as a platoon player, and wisely Boston did not want to commit three years and $26 million to a player who is average at best on defense and ineffective at the plate away from Fenway Park.
It is understandable why Ross is fond of Fenway. Last season, he posted a batting line of .298/.565/.921 at home with 13 home runs, 25 doubles and 49 RBI. On the road, his numbers were .232/.390/.684 with nine home runs, nine doubles and 32 RBI.
Against lefties, Ross hit .295/.636/1.010 with 12 home runs, seven doubles and 35 RBI. Versus righties, he was a palatable .256/.422/.729 with 10 home runs, 27 doubles and 46 RBI.
There is no doubt that Ross is a plus to have on a Major League ballclub. He has a positive clubhouse presence, provides versatility in the outfield (though his defense is lackluster) and offers power from the right side of the plate. Yet he is not worth the commitment in years that he received from the Diamondbacks.
Granted with enviable payroll flexibility after last summer’s trade with the Los Angeles Dodgers, the Red Sox entered this offseason with a plan. Ben Cherington, Boston’s general manager who once guided the organization’s farm system, told the media several times that the team would refrain from entering into long-term agreements that would hamstring the payroll (meaning no deals of more than four years). He also indicated that the Red Sox would build around their core players, bring aboard complementary pieces who play the game the right way and provide a good clubhouse presence, and not take on cumbersome contracts that would clog openings for top prospects like Xander Bogaerts, Jackie Bradley, Matt Barnes, Rubby De La Rosa, Allen Webster, Bryce Brentz and others.
Bradley will likely take over for Jacoby Ellsbury in center field when Ellsbury inevitably departs via free agency after the 2013 season. The 22-year-old Bradley, who is a superb defensive center fielder and hits from the left side, could make his Major League debut at some point in 2013, though he will open the campaign at Double-A Portland with a likely mid-season promotion to Triple-A Pawtucket.
The 23-year-old Brentz, who was Boston’s first round pick out of Middle Tennessee State in 2010, projects as a right fielder in the majors because of his strong arm. He also provides power from the left side and will open the 2013 season in the Pawtucket outfield with a chance to get a taste of Fenway Park in September.
The Red Sox also have 24-year-old Ryan Kalish, whose top prospect status was derailed because of shoulder and neck injuries that caused him to miss much of 2011 and 2012, and diminished his effectiveness when he did play last season. The left-handed hitting Kalish, who can hit for power and average, proficiently plays all three outfield spots and could earn a platoon role with Jonny Gomes in left field next season. Kalish is expected to be fully recovered from those injuries when spring training arrives, and he deserves a chance to earn a spot on the Opening Day roster.
Though the 20-year-old Bogaerts currently plays shortstop, there is speculation that he will grow out of the position as his body continues to get bigger and stronger, and he will be moved to third base or left field. Projected as a middle of the order bat in the majors who can produce 30 home runs and 100 RBI, the Aruba native will likely open 2013 at Portland and receive a mid-season promotion to Pawtucket.
Considering the path of Texas Rangers’ infielder Jurickson Profar, who made his Major League debut in 2012 at 19, it is feasible that Bogaerts could be Major League ready at some point in 2013 or at least by spring training in 2014.
With the presence of the aforementioned four prospects, it makes sense what Cherington has done this offseason. Gomes was inked to a two-year, $10 million deal. Like Ross, Gomes is not known for his outfield defense, but he does mash left-handed pitching. With Oakland in 2012, the 32-year-old Gomes hit .299/.561/.974 with 11 home runs and 26 RBI against southpaws. He batted .209/.391.715 with seven home runs and 21 RBI versus right-handers.
In a division like the American League East – which is rich with tough lefties like David Price and CC Sabathia – it is ideal for a manager to have right-handed power hitters available. Gomes at two years and $10 million is better than Ross at three years and $26 million.
Many Ross supporters wonder why the Red Sox signed Shane Victorino to a three-year, $39 million when they balked at offering Ross three years. Like Ross, Victorino is 32. Unlike Ross, Victorino is a plus defensive outfielder, a switch-hitter and a stolen base threat. If Ellsbury experiences yet another injury in 2013, Victorino can replace him in center field and the Sox will not suffer on defense. Victorino’s 2012 numbers were down because of a hand injury, but he is expected to be fully healthy when spring training arrives.
The Red Sox will likely add a left-handed hitter who can play first base and the corner outfield spots. Lance Berkman is a possibility. Or the club could trade for Seattle’s Mike Carp. Once it was determined that Ross was adamant about three years, and the Red Sox signed Gomes and Victorino, there was no need nor no room for Ross because the roster is right-handed heavy and needs a left-handed bat.
In what was the most dismal season for Red Sox fans in decades, Ross was one of the few bright spots in 2012. Yet signing a guy to a contract that will block other players with higher ceilings just because he is popular is no way to conduct business and build a winner.
Thankfully, Cherington listened to himself and not the fans and let Ross find someone else to give him three years.