NASHVILLE — At first glance, Shane Victorino doesn’t seem to fit the profile of a Red Sox right fielder, but the former Gold Glover with the Phillies used to have one of the strongest arms among center fielders.
While his arm strength has declined somewhat, it’s certainly suitable for right field at Fenway Park. And we know his legs are still good, so he can track down balls.
But consider this: What if the Red Sox have a deal down the road for Jacoby Ellsbury? The Sox always could move Victorino back to his natural position. That is the flexibility he provides.
General manager Ben Cherington indicated that he wanted a center fielder who could play right, too, because of the ground an outfielder needs to cover at Fenway.
You’ll notice that there’s been a lot of emphasis on the home ballpark as the Sox design their moves.
With Jonny Gomes and Mike Napoli, it’s righthanded Wall power. With Victorino, it’s a Gold Glove outfielder who still can cover a lot of ground at age 32, and who has a decent arm, is a switch hitter, can steal bases, and plays hard.
Some may see this as another “so what?” move, and there are baseball people roaming the halls here in Opryland already being critical of the money the Red Sox dished out for him. But Victorino has something to prove.
After he was traded to the Dodgers last July, things didn’t get much better. He hit .255 for the year.
Why did have such a poor season?
The prevailing theory was espoused by one baseball official who said, “I felt he played under pressure for a new contract and really didn’t relax and play. He played with passion all the time, a winning player. I’ve seen him a lot and he can be a difference-maker for a team who doesn’t hit him in the middle of the lineup.”
Victorino also played the whole season with a hand injury that bothered him at the plate.
“He’s such a high-energy, all-out guy,” said Rangers special assistant and MLB Network analyst John Hart. “Like Napoli, he’s a blue-collar guy, loves to play, and leaves it all on the field.
“I think people in Boston are going to love the way he plays and appreciate the little things he does so well.
“I think the Red Sox have done a nice job with their signings so far. We loved Napoli in Texas and he’s a better catcher than people give him credit for.”
Phillies manager Charlie Manuel was also a huge advocate for Victorino. He knew Victorino was playing hurt, and was sorry to see him go.
Cherington feels he was able to make a dent in the “too righthanded” problem by signing a switch hitter. Cherington also made it sound as if the Red Sox might not be done acquiring outfielders, and said he was leaving the door open for Cody Ross.
The Sox still haven’t closed the door on Nick Swisher, either.
This lends credence to the possibility that they may be shopping Ellsbury, knowing they have Jackie Bradley Jr. on the way. Ellsbury could land them a starting pitcher (maybe even Philadelphia’s Cliff Lee).
The Sox have had discussions with the Mets, Indians, Royals, Phillies, Rangers, and others.
They don’t seem to be in on National League Cy Young winner R.A. Dickey, only because they have their own knuckleball specialist in Steven Wright, who may be one of the first pitchers called up in 2013 if there should be an injury in the rotation.
The Sox now have signed four new players this offseason. Two (Victorino and catcher David Ross) address defensive needs. Two (Napoli and Gomes) address offensive needs. They seem to have a definite plan and so far it appears they have been able to execute it.
The next shoe to drop could be someone like Swisher or a starting pitcher or even a shortstop. Manager John Farrell wouldn’t mind another big arm in the bullpen. The Red Sox have been linked to free agents Kyle Lohse and Ryan Dempster.
If the Dodgers wind up with Zack Greinke, they could move lefty Chris Capuano. The Springfield, Mass., native was discussed two years ago when the Red Sox were trying to obtain a starting pitcher.
Right now, it appears the White Sox want to hold on to Gavin Floyd. The Cubs would move Matt Garza, who is on target for spring training after rehabilitating an elbow injury, but most teams would want to see him throw before they’d be willing to make a deal. But Garza definitely could be on Boston’s radar.
The Red Sox have been the most active team at the winter meetings so far, perhaps with a lot more to come. Cherington said he expected the outfield market to move fast, but the pitching market has been slow.
The Nationals signing Dan Haren to a one-year, $13 million deal could start the ball rolling. The Red Sox had their own discussions with Haren but felt his hip condition was a red flag.
The team is getting a different look to it, a different feel. You have “gamers” like Napoli, Gomes, and Victorino to go along with Dustin Pedroia. The Sox are trying to get tougher, to put people on the field who want to play every day and play hurt.
That part is coming along very well.
But do they have enough talent, especially in the pitching department? That seems to be the focus of the next phase of their plan. And in many respects, it’s the most important.
They are hoping for improvement from Jon Lester and Clay Buchholz, a good return by John Lackey, continued development by Felix Doubront. Farrell really believes that Bobby Valentine’s assessment of Franklin Morales as a starter was spot-on. He throws 96 m.p.h. and can sustain it. And there’s always Andrew Miller, who likely will stay in the bullpen, but you can’t overlook his 97-98 m.p.h. fastball, either.
What they want is one more reliable starter who can throw at least 180 innings. If they can get that, and buy time for young stars Bradley and Xander Boegarts to rise, they may start contending for a playoff spot once again.