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After trading starting shortstop Marco Scutaro last week to free up salary, the Red Sox have already put their newfound financial flexibility to use.
Pending a physical, the Red Sox have agreed with free agent outfielder Cody Ross to a one-year, $3 million contract, as reported Monday night by The Globe’s Peter Abraham and Tuesday by ESPN’s Gordon Edes. Ross later confirmed the deal on his Twitter account, saying, “Looking fwd to meeting #redsoxnation fans!”
The deal also stipulates that Ross will receive incentive bonuses based on plate appearances, sources say.
Ross, the 2010 NL Championship Series MVP for the San Francisco Giants gives the Red Sox the right-handed bat in the outfield they have long desired. But how effective will he be at age 31 after a sub-par 2011?
Ross will most likely get the majority of his playing time in 2012 platooning in right field with the left-handed Ryan Sweeney. He has put up good numbers against left-handed pitching in the past, batting .282 and slugging .563 with an OBP of .912 over his career. Those numbers dipped to just .234/.362/.698 against left-handers last year, however, albeit in just 94 at-bats. With CC Sabathia, Ricky Romero, David Price, and Matt Moore all in the AL East, and a roster dominated by left-handed hitters, Ross will have to return to his career numbers to make a difference in the Red Sox lineup.
He does provide some much-needed outfield depth for the Red Sox, primarily as an upgrade over Darnell McDonald. Ross presents a little more pop at the plate, with 100 career home runs compared to McDonald’s 17. He also has a longer track record in the major leagues over eight seasons, while McDonald didn’t break through for significant playing time until 2010 (and then only out of sheer necessity from a plague of injuries). Ross also has experience at all three outfield positions, playing at least 22 games at each position for the Giants last year, so he should be able to fill in anywhere in the outfield.
Ross also serves as a contingency plan if Carl Crawford isn’t ready to take the field following January surgery on his left wrist. Considering how finicky the recovery process can be with wrist injuries (see: Garciaparra, Nomar), the Red Sox really needed an outfielder with a history as a full-fledged starter. Besides, with how bad Crawford was last year, Ross could end up being an upgrade over both McDonald and the 142 million dollar man.
In the end, the Red Sox signed a much-needed right-handed batter to balance out an entirely left-handed outfield, serving as a much better outfield option than Mike Aviles. While his 2011 left much to be desired, he could benefit greatly from moving outside the NL West, where less cavernous parks like Fenway and fewer at-bats against Mat Latos and Clayton Kershaw should prove more hitter-friendly. He also has experience making a run at a World Series and performing on the biggest stage in the postseason, meaning he should hold up under the high atmospheric pressure of playing under the scrutiny of the Fenway Faithful and the Boston media.
Although Ross might not replace the production of the departed Scutaro, he comes nearly $5 million cheaper. This should allow Ben Cherington and the front office the flexibility to add some more pieces before spring training gets under way in less than a month.
With Nick Punto set to see some starts at shortstop and Daniel Bard making his first foray as a major league starter, the Red Sox could still use some upgrades, including the potentially tantalizing option of Roy Oswalt.
Considering their primary goal this offseason has been to stay under the luxury tax threshold, though, let’s hope with Ross they didn’t spend it all in one place.