Jul 13, 2012; Toronto, ON, Canada; Cleveland Indians left fielder Johnny Damon (33) during batting practice before playing against the Toronto Blue Jays at the Rogers Centre. Mandatory Credit: Tom Szczerbowski-USA TODAY Sports

Rounding Out Sox Outfield Might Mean Unlikely Moves Are In Play


Editor’s Note: John Fahrer has consistently commented on numerous posts here at Bosox Injection on the state of the Sox. He’s been sharp and insightful. So much so, I asked him to write a guest piece for BSI. Without further adieu…

by John Fahrer

September 20, 2012; Detroit, MI, USA; Oakland Athletics outfielder Jonny Gomes (31) makes a catch against the Detroit Tigers at Comerica Park. Mandatory Credit: Rick Osentoski-USA TODAY Sports

After coming to terms on a deal with Shane Victorino during the Winter Meetings and continuing to work out details of an offer with Mike Napoli, Red Sox GM Ben Cherington stated that he would still like to add another left-handed bat to the roster, preferably a versatile player who could play first base. Looking at the remaining free agents available, Nick Swisher is probably the best option to fit the bill of a versatile player who can bat left and spot at first on occasion.

With Josh Hamilton agreeing to a five-year deal, Swisher is probably looking for at least a four-year deal and $15-20 million per season. Even after overpaying Shane Victorino (who I personally feel could rebound at Fenway a la Mike Lowell in 2006), handing that big a contract to a guy to be a platoon player seems very unlikely.

Other things to consider regarding Swisher: 1. Another multiyear deal for an outfielder would create a roadblock when there are promising prospects in Bryce Brentz, Jackie Bradley, and Ryan Kalish not far off from being MLB-ready. 2. Since he was offered a qualifying offer, signing Swisher would cost the club their second round draft pick in 2013. With no departing free agents who were eligible for qualifying offers of their own, it would be a very wise choice for Cherington to cling onto that draft pick.

The likely primary position for this player would be LF since Jonny Gomes is currently entrenched there and has been a part-time player for most of his career. Here’s a list of two possible fits for Gomes’ 2013 platoon partner and the pros and cons to both players.

 

May 19, 2012; Los Angeles, CA, USA; St. Louis Cardinals first baseman Lance Berkman (12) at bad in the first inning against the Los Angeles Dodgers at Dodger Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Gary A. Vasquez-USA TODAY Sports

Lance Berkman
Pros: The Big Puma is technically a switch-hitter, but has always been a much better hitter from the left side. He was enjoying a nice renaissance with the Cardinals before his season was cut short due to injury last season. Has some familiarity with the AL East. His plus power vs. RHP and Gomes’ plus power vs. LHP could make them a great platoon. Berkman can also play right field and first base. Fits the bill as a good clubhouse guy who will provide a much needed veteran leadership. Coming off an injury, Berkman could likely be signed to an incentive-laden one-year deal. Also should note that Cherington had contacted Berkman’s agent and expressed interest earlier in the offseason.

Cons: Berkman is coming off another injury. His 2009 and 2010 seasons were also injury-riddled. Despite having some familiarity with the AL East, Berkman struggled in his half-season with the Yankees in 2010 (.707 OPS and just one home run playing in a lefty power hitter’s paradise). With the nagging injuries, Berkman might want to see if there’s a spot as a primary DH before settling on a deal to be a platoon player. The Houston Astros could have the advantage there. Though the Sox are ahead of Houston on the road to being contenders again, they are the team who Berkman grew up rooting for as well as the club who drafted and developed him. As much as I don’t want to make sentiment a factor, it quite possibly could be in this situation.

 

Johnny Damon
Pros: Sentiment aside, the guy always was tough and durable. He’s very familiar with the AL East, spending nine of his eighteen seasons in the division and winning two World Series. He has some experience at first base and is a positive clubhouse presence. Though not an elite fielder anymore, he’s adequate enough to handle a shorter LF at Fenway. Still wants to play and can be signed at a very reasonable price.

Cons: Damon looked to have nothing left in his brief stint with the Indians in 2012. Part of that could be due to signing very late and not having a spring training, not too lame an excuse for an aging player. Still, Damon’s OPS has consistently dropped in each of the past three seasons (.854 in 09, .756 in 10, .743 in 11, .610 in 12). He became more of a free-swinger in recent seasons with the 3,000 hit milestone nearing (231 hits shy).

Final Analysis
Swisher (and Adam LaRoche) is still in play at least until the Mike Napoli signing is finalized. Chances are Cherington wants to sign someone as insurance since it’d be a huge gamble to go with Ryan Kalish (needs to prove he’s 100% after two injury-plagues seasons) or Jerry Sands (needs to prove he can hit outside the hitter-friendly Pacific Coast League). If the Sox outbid the Astros, they could likely land Berkman. Seeing Damon back would be an awesome thing to see. But if he wants 3,000 hits, he’ll need to prove he can stick around as a viable platoon player. Part of that will be regaining his patience at the plate and retaining his durability.

 

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