By Jeff Louderback
When the Boston Red Sox inked Shane Victorino to a three-year, $39 million deal over the offseason, eyebrows were raised about the total salary commitment.
The 32-year-old Victorino struggled through an injury-plagued 2012 campaign (including a nagging hand ailment) that limited him to a .255 average, 11 home runs and a .704 OPS in 666 plate appearances between the Phillies and Dodgers. Why sign a player who is likely in decline to a three-year contract at $13 million per? That is what the naysayers asked.
Red Sox general manager overpaid for Victorino because the club had extreme payroll flexibility, a need to improve the clubhouse culture (Victorino is beloved by his teammates) and a desire to add outfield depth since Jacoby Ellsbury will likely be departing via free agency after the 2013 season.
This spring, Victorino’s signing has been questioned repeatedly because of how Jackie Bradley is performing and the lackluster numbers Victorino has recorded so far. The switch-hitter batted .316 (6-for-19) for Team U.S.A. in the World Baseball Classic, but he did not hit a home run and drove in just one run. After a triple and three strikeouts on Monday against Pittsburgh, Victorino is hitting .111 (2-for-18) with four walks.
It is too early to tell if Victorino is on the decline, yet the Red Sox need him to get on base and produce runs in 2013, especially if David Ortiz and Stephen Drew open the season on the disabled list.
With Bradley and top prospect Bryce Brentz (who could be Boston’s right fielder of the future as early as 2014) in the system, Victorino could be traded before his three-year deal expires. The Red Sox would undoubtedly have to eat most of the money to find him a new destination, but it is also too early to speculate about that.
Victorino has value because he proficiently plays all three outfield spots, and this year he is expected to see time in left and right. He also can steal bases, as his career-high 39 swipes in a down year last season indicate. Though he had just seven triples in 2012, Victorino collected 16 in 2011, when he also belted 17 home runs.
Though his production will not justify his salary, Victorino can still emerge as a valuable piece of Boston’s lineup this season. Just as the club needs Jonny Gomes to provide pop in left field, it also will benefit from 2011 type numbers from Victorino.