Both free agents are on the wrong side of 30 coming off down years, and Boston is asking each one to change positions. Napoli was the starting catcher in last summer’s All-Star Game but will move to first base to fill the void left by Adrian Gonzalez. Victorino received three consecutive Gold Gloves from 2008-2010 for his strong play in center field, but the Red Sox already have Jacoby Ellsbury entrenched as their center fielder (for now). The Flyin’ Hawaiian will shift to right field to accommodate Ellsbury, but could regain his original position soon if the incumbent is traded or leaves via free agency next winter.
The reaction to this signing has been decidedly less positive than the one that preceded it by a day. Victorino batted a paltry .255/.321/.383 last season while setting a career high in strikeouts. Some regression was to be expected following his great 2011 campaign, but I don’t think anybody expected him to perform so poorly during his contract year. It was hoped the struggling switch-hitter would improve after the Philadelphia Phillies dealt him to the Los Angeles Dodgers just before the trading deadline, allowing him to bat in front of Matt Kemp, Andre Ethier, Hanley Ramirez and Gonzalez everyday. Instead of turning his season around, Victorino played even worse in his new digs; he had a .724 OPS before the trade and a .667 OPS after.
Thankfully, the Flyin’ Hawaiian can still fly because speed never slumps. The two-time All-Star set a new career high with 39 stolen bases and was caught just six times, resulting in an impressive 86.7 percent success rate. Pairing him with Ellsbury gives Boston two elite basestealers who can wreak havoc on the basepaths. Recent injuries to Ellsbury and Carl Crawford robbed the Red Sox of reaching their full potential in the speed department, so hopefully John Farrell lets them run wild next year.
Speaking of Crawford, Victorino has been comparable in value to departed left fielder. Victorino does everything well. His package of speed, solid on base skills (.341 career OBP), passable power and plus defense makes him an above average ballplayer. Most years he’s worth three or four wins above replacement, with a good chunk of that value tied up in his glovework and baserunning. Since the going rate for one win these days is about five million dollars on the open market, he should be able to earn his keep if he stays healthy.
Boston got surprisingly decent production from its right fielders — mainly Cody Ross and Ryan Sweeney — last year, who batted a combined .261/.319/.431 with 18 home runs and 85 RBI. The 32 year-old Victorino is unlikely to match those power numbers, but he’s a good bet to meet or exceed the rate stats while upgrading the defense. There’s a lot of ground to cover in Fenway Park’s right field, which extends 380 feet from home plate. Victorino, a rangy outfielder with good instincts, should be up to the task.
It will be interesting to see how this contract will play out, especially compared to the J.D. Drew experience. Drew caught a lot of flak throughout his five years in Beantown, but he was much better than people gave him credit for. I think Victorino will be too.