It remains to be seen how productive Mike Napoli and Shane Victorino will be as teammates for the Red Sox, but at the very least their bank accounts will look similar as they share the same tax bracket over the next three years.
Just a day after agreeing to a three-year, $39 million deal with Napoli to play first base, Boston handed the same contract to Victorino to patrol right field at Fenway Park.
The newest members of the Red Sox also share something else in common – they both disappointed at the plate in 2012, but still cashed in as free agents.
Victorino hit .255/.321/.383 for the Phillies and Dodgers this past season. Once a part of Philadelphia’s championship core, he was dealt at midseason when the team started to fall out of contention. Unlike Napoli, Victorino will help the Red Sox even if he’s slumping at the plate. As an above-average defensive outfielder, Victorino will play in right but has the ability to take over in center if Jacoby Ellsbury is traded or leaves as a free agent next winter.
Ben Cherington wiped a quarter of a billion dollars in payroll obligations from the team’s books when he dealt Carl Crawford, Adrian Gonzalez and Josh Beckett to the Dodgers in August. He has already used $78 million of that to sign Napoli and Victorino through 2015.
I questioned the value of Napoli’s contract mostly because of his poor defense and lack of any real consistent elite offensive productivity, but Victorino is a different case.
Almost all of Victorino’s value is tied to his athleticism and after turning 32 last month, it will be an annual question as to whether he has lost a step on the bases and in the field. However, he stole a career-high 39 bases with an 86.6% success rate in 2012 and produced a total of 0.4 dWAR for two teams (around what we’ve come to expected over the last four years).
Those numbers indicate that Victorino hasn’t lost a step, but at his age a pulled hamstring or quad could advance the aging process. If he loses speed or acceleration, his stolen base total will shrink, he’ll get to fewer balls in strangely-configured outfield at Fenway and see a reduction in singles as he beats out fewer average infield throws.
Victorino hit close to .300, while never surpassing the mark, in his first five seasons with the Phillies, but has been closer to .250 over the last three years. Part of that may be him regressing, but it may also be because of injuries and inconsistent production from Chase Utley and Ryan Howard behind him.
He has never hit for power, but as a switch-hitter he can take advantage of both the short right-field porch and the Green Monster at his new home park. He has only logged 18 plate appearances in Boston over the course of his career, hitting .143/.333/.143 with both of his hits coming as singles. Those numbers almost aren’t worth including because of the small sample size.
The switch to the American League might bode well for Victorino, who has strong numbers against AL pitching. In 110 interleague games, he has hit .274/.376/.433 with 11 home runs, 45 RBI and an OPS of .809. Those numbers are slightly better than his overall career totals -- .275/.341/.430 and an OPS of .770.
Grade for Victorino: A-
Cherington didn’t sign Victorino looking for the guy that helped Philadelphia win a World Series in 2008 and win the National League title in 2009, but rather one that can fulfill this contract without dropping off in terms of current production.
Ultimately, the floor is lower for Victorino than it is Napoli, but given his age and skill set his ceiling over the next three years is lower as well. Eroding physical skills aren’t going to sap Napoli of his defensive ability because he doesn’t have much to begin with. Napoli will also be able to contribute offensively thanks to more raw power even as he ages. Unless Victorino suddenly develops into a pure slugger, he won’t have that luxury.
Grade for Red Sox: C-
The Red Sox got lucky when they were able to unload a few Brinks trucks worth of payroll on the Dodgers four months ago. The contract they have given Victorino isn’t nearly as long or crippling as the ones they handed Crawford or Gonzalez, but in the midst of a pseudo-rebuilding project the money could have been better allocated.
There are a number of other options that would have fit better. Nick Swisher isn’t the defender Victorino is, but seemed to be as close a fit for the Red Sox as an ex-Yankee can be. There also remains a few significant holes in their pitching staff that might now have to be filled via trade if Cherington wants to avoid handcuffing the team’s flexibility going forward.