With just 12 days until pitchers and catchers report to Fort Myers, 'tis the season to start making predictions about what to expect in the much-anticipated 2013 season.
This has certainly been no ordinary offseason for the Red Sox. With plenty of salary cap space and several vacancies on the roster, GM Ben Cherington made a slew of acquisitions to rebuild the team.
With all the new names flying around, the question arises: Who will make the biggest impact in 2013?
For those who need a quick review of the newest Red Sox, this year’s most notable additions include, in no particular order: Mike Napoli (1B), Shane Victorino (OF), Ryan Dempster (SP), Joel Hanrahan (RP), Koji Uehara (RP), Stephen Drew (SS), Jonny Gomes (LF) and David Ross (C).
Of all these new faces, a few can be ruled out immediately in terms of impact. Drew is just a stop-gap signing who will be out of Boston as soon as one of the Red Sox plethora shortstop prospects are ready to take his place.
Uehara is a very good setup man, but he’s far from the best arm on this list. Ross is an excellent platoon player, but nothing more. Gomes should provide some laughs in the clubhouse and in press conferences, but his production on the field, although solid, is far from stellar.
And so we’re left with the four biggest names on the list: Napoli, Victorino, Dempster and Hanrahan. A strong case can be made for each of these players, but for the purposes of this article, we need to pick one.
And my pick is Shane Victorino.
Yes, many writers and analysts, especially some on B/R, have pointed to the Victorino deal as one of the most botched signings of the offseason (I think BJ Upton takes the cake in that category, personally). I will certainly admit, the price tag was a little high for my liking. The three-year, $39 million deal signed by Victorino was by far the largest of the offseason in Boston.
However, strictly discussing a player’s impact in ignorance of his contract, Victorino’s skills and previous All-Star-caliber seasons suggest that he could be Boston’s most valuable pickup of the year.
On offense, Victorino is a very talented player who routinely hits for average with some surprising power. He gets on base at a strong clip and wreaks havoc on the basepaths.
Victorino had a down year last season, only managing to post a meager .704 on-base plus slugging percentage (OPS). However, since breaking through with the Phillies in 2006, Victorino has posted a .278/.343/.434 slash line and has averaged 50 extra base hits, 28 stolen bases and 86 runs over an average of 146 games per season.
While he won’t be making the Hall of Fame, those numbers are the profile of a well above-average major league regular who reaches a few All-Star teams in peak seasons.
On the other side of the game, Victorino is also the worthy recipient of three Gold Glove awards, all in center field. He has posted an impressive 38.3 defensive WAR (per Fangraphs.com) over the course of his nine-year career.
Furthermore, moving from center field to right field will only improve Victorino’s defensive capacity. Having him and Jacoby Ellsbury, another lightening-quick defender, next to each other, will make it next to impossible for opposing hitters to drop any hits into right-center field.
This defensive upgrade will give the Red Sox pitchers some much-needed peace of mind.
Many skeptics of my argument point to Victorino’s age and poor 2012 season as evidence against his potential impact. Both are legitimate points, but players like Victorino tend to slow down as they age and exit their prime years, and there is no evidence of that, as he stole more bases last year (39) than at any other point in his career.
Victorino’s lackluster 2012 season can’t be accounted for as easily, but being overworked in Philadelphia before being shipped across the country to L.A. in a trade deadline deal certainly couldn’t have helped his production.
Victorino won’t be mistaken for a superstar, and I’d be surprised if he was still in Boston once his contract expires, but for the here and now, he is just the kind of five-tool player any team would want hitting near the top of its batting order and playing Gold Glove defense in the outfield.
All statistical information obtained from Baseball-reference.com, unless otherwise specified.