Most Rays fans never particularly liked Shane Victorino after he was the centerfielder for the 2008 Phillies team that beat the World Series. But now he is officially the enemy now that he has signed a 3-year, 39 million dollar contract with the Boston Red Sox. But before Victorino signed, Jon Heyman of CBS Sports reported that the Rays were among the teams interested in Victorino, something that was quite surprising. It never seemed at all likely that Victorino would sign, but simply the fact that the Rays were in the discussion says something very interesting about the way the Rays are running their ballclub.
Victorino, who turned 32 years old last week, is coming off a rough year split between the Phillies and Dodgers, managing just a .255/.321/.383 line (91 OPS+) with 11 homers, 7 triples, and 39 stolen bases in 666 plate appearances. However, his 39 steals and his success rate (39 of 45) were both career-bests, and just one year before he had a huge year, punishing pitchers to the tune of a .279/.355/.491 line (130 OPS+). Even counting 2012, Victorino is a good defensive centerfielder (3.1 UZR/150 in 6571.2 innings) who has managed a .276/.343/.438 line with an average of 14 homers, 11 triples, and 31 stolen bases per season the last five years. That’s a pretty valuable player no matter how you slice it.
Victorino certainly comes with risk- he didn’t hit for any power at all in 2012 as his .128 ISO was his lowest since 2003 and a career-high groundball to flyball ratio, a career-low line drive rate, and a career-worst pop-up rate are concerning enough to make you think that his power may never come back in earnest. Even worse is that the switch-hitting Victorino put up just a .229/.296/.333 line (69 sOPS+) against right-handed pitching, and although he was outstanding against lefties (140 sOPS+), most pitchers are righties and that’s certainly not good. Victorino has always been better batting right-handed, but now it’s getting extreme. All that being said, at the right price you take a chance at a player who has been as Victorino has been the past several years.
Why were the Rays interested in Victorino? They were hoping that they could get an excellent value at say two years and 16 million dollars and wind up with a centerfielder every bit as good as B.J. Upton and maybe even better. Victorino’s final deal was far more than that so it didn’t work out. But the Rays are showing that money isn’t the most important thing for them anymore. The Rays’ payroll will remain low but they’re ready to seize opportunities to get quality players at below market value up to a certain extent. The Rays took plenty of risk with the extension they gave to Evan Longoria, but they knew that if Longoria’s injury problems are behind him they’ll be criminally underpaying him. The Rays were ready to take another calculated gamble with Victorino. It didn’t work out- and now the Rays will be rooting for Victorino to fall apart with the Red Sox- but you never know the next chance the Rays will take and the reward could be enormous.