Unfortunately, I was tied up with working, living, and putting together the mid-season roundtable yesterday, so I didn’t get a chance to weigh on Mike Cameron‘s recent designation for assignment. Luckily, Marc Normandin of Over the Monster was able to provide a few rational thoughts on Cameron’s disappointing tenure in Boston.
“Mike Cameron was designated for assignment earlier today by the Boston Red Sox, and his spot on the 25-man roster taken over by Yamaico Navarro. This likely marks the end of his time in Boston, as he will either accept an assignment to the minors, be traded, or be outright released in the next 10 days. It’s a shame it had to end this way, too, as the Cameron signing was one of many well-reasoned moves from the 2010 off-season that just didn’t pan out as expected.
Two years of Mike Cameron for $15.5 million was supposed to be an outright steal. It was expected he would be a three- or four-win player for at least one more season, a rate that would have paid for the entirety of the contract alone. Here was a 37-year-old center fielder who still could range and track down balls in center field, and could still hit plenty for the position. He was expected to be a better center fielder defensively than Jacoby Ellsbury, who in turn was meant to play in a corner, where his instincts and speed play better than in center.”
While this might sound a little harsh, Mike Cameron didn’t stand a chance in Boston. Like J.D. Drew, his 2011 platoon partner in right field, Cameron’s always been a little misunderstood. People would look at his pedestrian .249 batting average and high strikeout totals, assume he was overrated, and move on. Of course, what they missed in their cursury, facile analysis was an 11% career walk rate; consistent 20-25 home run power; outstanding skills on the base paths (worth 19 runs since 2002); and superior defensive abilities while playing a premium position (valued at +109 runs over his career). By all accounts, he was the very definition of an undervalued, underrated player.
Still, none of this mattered to the overtly vocal lunatic fringe of Red Sox Nation because Cameron was old (37), and he was forcing fan favorite, Jacoby Ellsbury, to move from CF to LF. How dare he?! They didn’t care that he’d produced three 4+ WAR seasons out of the last four. They didn’t care that he was among the most respected defensive players in baseball, while Ellsbury was one of the most controversial. All they saw was a another player they irrationally perceived to “overpaid” and “overrated.” Another free agent blunder by boy wonder Theo Epstein, they would say.
As Marc points out, signing Cameron to a two year $15.5M contract was widely seen as a smart, savvy move by an increasingly creative, cutting edge front office. Despite his advanced age, Cameron had shown nary a sign of regression. He was still able to track balls down hit to the deepest parts of center field; steal a few bases; and hit consistently for power. By all accounts, the transaction seemed like a fairly safe move. Sure, there’s always going to be some risk involved, but that’s true regardless of the player’s age and skill set. Based purely on the data, the Red Sox had found a steal of a deal in Cameron.
Of course, one thing data can’t predict are injuries. No one could have predicted Cameron would be stricken with kidney stones in early April 2010; nor could anyone have predicted he would tear his abdominal muscle, eventually requiring season-ending surgery and extensive rehab. Abdominal muscles are used in every action a baseball player takes. Running? Check. Swinging a bat? Check. Bending over to field a ground ball? Check. Reaching/jumping to snag a fly ball? Check. Given how important it is for a baseball player to have a strong and healthy core, it’s not surprising that he struggled mightily both at the plate and in the field in 2010. Do you think the vocal opposition cut him a break? Of course not. Instead, they used his poor performance as justification for their opinion, while eschewing more rational arguments like the one I expressed above.
This year, it’s been a little tougher to justify Cameron’s performance because theoretically he’s fully recovered from his abdominal surgery. To date, he’s posted a brutal .149/.212/.266 triple slash line with only five extra base hits in 105 plate appearances. Making matters worse, both scouting and analytical techniques show that his defensive abilities have regressed significantly during his tenure in Boston. Not surprsingly, management decided they’d seen enough, and designated him for assignment.
Considering his recent performance, it seems very unlikely another team would be interested in pulling the trigger on a trade for Cameron within the next 10 days. As a result, that leaves the Red Sox/Cameron with three options: (1) accept a minor league reassignment; (2) request/grant an outright release; or (3) announce his retirement. Option one seems incredibly unlikely given Cameron’s age. He probably won’t be interested in taking another step back in his career, just for an outside chance at being recalled later this season. Option three also seems pretty unlikely, considering he likely believes (as most athletes do) he can still play the game at a reasonably high level. That leaves option two, which gives him the opportunity to shop his skills around to interested teams. Unfortunately, I can’t imagine there are too many teams willing to take on Cameron, even at the prorated league minimum, given how poor he’s looked since the start of the 2010 season. I could be wrong, but I think accepting an outright release ultimately leads to him retiring.
Regardless of what Cameron chooses to do, he’s had a very good career. No one can take that away from him. He’s been a consistent 4+ win player for nearly his entire career, and he’s accomplished a great deal more than most players can ever dream of accomplishing. If his career is truly over, he can look back on it with a great deal of pride knowing he laid everything on the table, and showed maximum effort. While he certainly won’t make the Hall of Fame, he deserves a great deal of recognition for his contributions to the game.