My Thoughts on Mike Cameron

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.

Categories: Boston Red Sox Jacoby Ellsbury Mike Cameron

After being slapped with a restraining order for stealing Nick Cafardo's mail, I was forced into retirement for a brief period of time. As fun as it was to lounge around the community pool and play shuffleboard with noted internet columnist, Murray Chass, I quickly felt a yearning to write again. Now in my second tenure with Fire Brand, I have set lofty goals of achieving world domination, ending the plight of the hipsters, and becoming BFFs with Mike Trout. I am fluent in two languages (Sarcasm and English, in that order); have an intimate relationship with M&Ms; firmly believe that Lucille is the best character on Arrested Development; and spend my spare time trolling select members of the Boston media. You can follow me on Twitter @Chip_Buck.

7 Responses to “My Thoughts on Mike Cameron” Subscribe

  1. Josh Cupp July 1, 2011 at 1:00 PM #

    No saberstats needed. Before the Sox, MCam had respectable power, walked a decent bit and raked vs. lefties. He didn't do any of those things in Boston and he didn't even play reasonable defense, which he's know to do. His sample size is small, but big enough to have to make this call. Chip, please tell the boys that Lavarnway's name is spelled wrong on the depth chart. Since he could potentially be catching right now for the big club, we should spell that bad boy correctly.

    • ChipBuck July 1, 2011 at 3:36 PM #

      @Josh – Thanks for the comment. You're right. He failed to produce, and much of that is due to age and injury. I'd be hard pressed to find any serious talent evaluator/analyst who could've predicted exactly what happened to Cam. It was quite honestly, a shock.

      As for Lavarnway, it was a typo. It's been fixed.

  2. donna July 1, 2011 at 3:06 PM #

    ok i am a romantic, and i liked the idea of having Cameron on our bench. LIfe has a way of changing great plans and tho' i can't say i know the man, i've only heard good things about him – so i wish him well in whatever happens next form him!
    That being said – i love seeing Reddick getting his chance – love the look in his eyes at the plate – and the outcome!
    and, Darnell – love the guy but every time i see him at the plate in clutch situations i cringe and wonder where Reddick is.

    Similar things could probably be said about Drew – and tho' his D is still awesome ( i am still amazed by some plays that he makes look easy out there). But – we need more tools working from all the the nine out there.
    Other hand, older guys like Tek – hey, can anyone really complain about what he has brought to the table this year? I want to give the guy a hug every time i see his intensity/focus behind the plate. meow

    • ChipBuck July 1, 2011 at 3:37 PM #

      @Donna – Anytime I see McDonald up to the plate, regardless of situation, I cringe. I'm actually surprised he wasn't DFA'd before Cam. He's worse all around. Really though, it's irrelevant. When Crawford comes off the DL (anticipated for next week), McDonald is the most likely to be let go.

      • donna July 1, 2011 at 4:50 PM #

        yep agree with you on that – had been wondering why Tito giving the two of them such a painfully prolonged chance – esp when we have talent on the farm. I would love to see the RS stick with some of the younger talent and not just trade them away to get stopgap measures. Let Drew ride the bench and have Reddick take over now. CC should be back soon enough.
        Arroyo is facing off against Masterston, i think today.

        • ChipBuck July 1, 2011 at 7:32 PM #

          Having Reddick/Kalish ride the bench as a fourth outfielder is probably not the best move at this point. They both need to be receiving regular PAs in order to continue their development. Also, I'm not convinced Reddick is really a starting caliber outfielder. Yes, he's looked very good so far, but he's not going to keep up his 1.198 OPS pace. He's going to regress. When he does, how good will he really be? My guess is that his he'll return to the fourth outfielder many figured he was going to be.

  3. darryljohnston July 2, 2011 at 1:07 PM #

    I was a big champion of this signing after Jason Bay left. I thought it was clever, but it just never worked out like I had hoped for. Cameron had one of the scariest head-on collisions in the outfield I have ever seen when he was in Milwaukee and I thought for sure he would become a fan-favorite with that 25 HR pop and giant smile.

    Too bad it wasn't what we hoped, but maybe even worse is that McDonald is still on the team.