As known by now, the Red Sox have a surplus of cash to spend after dumping $200-plus million during an August blockbuster with the Dodgers. General manager Ben Cherington had originally planned to be more conservative going forward, despite the freedom to do practically anything.
Has he stayed true to his plan?
Certain pundits have their own opinions, but the general consensus around the league is that he broke his promise to be conservative by signing Shane Victorino to a three-year, $39 million contract. The length isn’t necessarily what’s raised the red flags. It’s the hefty dollar value which will see Victorino making upwards of $14 million per year over the next three years, where he was initially expected to make an annual salary of roughly eight to ten million dollars. What’s funny is the fact that he only wanted ten million max, and some how wound up with four more million.
So the Red Sox and Cherington are fools, right? Maybe, but Victorino won’t be the big bust that everyone thinks he will be.
Sure, you can point to his 2012 season and make red marks all over his stat line. And I’m not discounting that side of the story, as his stats weren’t great this past season. Excluding his rookie year (2003), he posted career lows in the OPS, slugging percentage, batting average, and OPS+ categories. But by no means is he about to hit the decline that all veterans eventually hit. Maybe his production will slip marginally, sure, but not a free for all drop off.
See, many will take Victorino’s increased strikeout percentage in 2012 (12%), and lowered walk rate (8%), and claim he’s no longer useful, as he’s known for getting on base and creating havoc. Those two numbers portray a guy who isn’t an on-base type player. He indeed was noticeably more aggressive in swinging at pitches outside of the zone in 2012, swinging pitches outside the strike zone 33.5 percent of the time. Although, he has had seasons in the past where he has been overly aggressive, but still consistently produces.
Take 2006 for example. The Flyin’ Hawaiian swung at pitches outside of the zone 32.4 percent of the time, which certainly isn’t much different from his 2012 mark of 33.5 percent. The difference, though, is that his stats were respectable with a slash of .287/.346/.414. During 2006, he also compiled a much lower walk percentage of five percent, and nearly the same strikeout percentage with a 11.7 mark. So in other words, his overaggressiveness shouldn’t be targeted as a sign of decline, nor should his walk and strikeout percentages.
Another area to examine is his Batting Average on Balls in Play (BABIP). In 2006, his BABIP reached .317, a career-best. In 2012, however, his BABIP with the Dodgers and Red Sox combined was a mere .278. The average is roughly .290 to .310. So from his 2012 BABIP, we can determine that luck was rarely on his side. Whether line drives weren’t falling in or whatever factor ballooned his BABIP, it has something to do with his pedestrian numbers.
Now, with players who rely on speed to be effective, age also becomes a massive factor. Just look at Michael Bourn, 29, who might have to settle for a smaller amount of years because his suitors can’t trust his speed when he hits his mid-30’s. And there are indications that Bourn’s stolen base totals could soon begin to decrease. He stole 42 bases in 2012, which is 19 less than his 2011 total and ten less than his 2010 total. Still, 42 bases is quite a number, but 60-plus is better, wouldn’t you think?
In hindsight, Victorino swiped a career-high 39 bases this past season at the age of 31-years-old. In Victorino’s case, it doesn’t appear that speed is not a huge concern at the moment, which likely indicates that he will continue to create chaos on the base paths and track down fly balls in the outfield.
At this point, everyone has their own opinion on the topic. Either you hate the signing, partly agree with it, or you’re in downright disgust. However, his sub-par 2012 campaign shouldn’t be the only variable you consider when judging the signing.
Additionally, Victorino vaunts a solid reputation as a good clubhouse guy. After this year’s ongoing drama with Bobby Valentine, Boston is clearly trying to stray from low character reputations who would be better off in a reality TV show. Thus, a proven veteran with ample experience.
Maybe the Red Sox won’t be receiving the 2011 version of Victorino, but anything close is surely worthy of a $39 million contract. Therefore, let the situation play out before coming to any conclusions.