Beyond the shadow of a doubt, the signing of Cody Ross was not only one of the bright points of an otherwise glum season for the Boston Red Sox, but he was one of the best pickups of last year’s offseason, period. For a meager $3 million and incentives, the Red Sox bought a 2.5 fWAR player who’s managed to hit 20 HR’s and post a robust .505 SLG.
Heading into what’s sure to be a transformational offseason for the Sox, Ross is one of the team’s largest looming issues. With the free agent market being full of mediocre to overpriced talents, there’s a growing chorus of voices calling for the Red Sox to bring back Ross for the 2013 season and perhaps beyond. Ross himself seems amiable to a longer-term union, expressing an abundance of love for the city, teammates and organization. He’s handled the fans, media and intense glow of the Boston spotlight well, leading many to ponder whether a deal with the Red Sox seems to be more of a formality at this point than a legitimate question mark.
But – is Cody Ross really worth bringing back? Would the Red Sox be better served pursuing other options? With an unprecedented degree of financial flexibility, the Red Sox face a world of possibilities. Ross has proven to be a valuable asset this season, but can he maintain this season’s performance over the course of an extension? Let’s explore:
Ross’ exploits against lefties have been well documented. He’s posted an impressive 321/.408/.688 line against southpaws this year, an improvement over his already solid .288/.357/.581 career mark. His .448 wOBA is the 7th best mark in all of Major League Baseball vs. lefties this season. In Fenway, he’s been flat out devastating, mashing an impressive .344/.388/.820 against LHP at the Fens this year. While he’s always handled LHP well, Fenway has ballooned his production to elite levels.
Against righties, it’s a different story. He’s been somewhat salvageable at home– posting a .260/.315/.436 line, but on the road, he’s hitting an atrocious .215/.254/.338. While you can live with that kind of production at home, on the road, you simply can’t. By the time the season ends, Ross will have easily accumulated 150+ PA’s vs. righties on the road, meaning that for nearly a 1/4rd of his PA’s, the Red Sox have been essentially putting a ghost in the lineup. The inability to hit righties on the road shouldn’t be a total deal-killer – but something that drastically reduces Ross’ price. Not being able to contribute much of anything in over 30% of the Red Sox games makes him a platoon player, not a regular.
In order to retain Ross, the Red Sox will have to consider the fact that they’re almost assuredly paying for declining production. Also worth considering – injuries to strong home/road split players mean significantly more than they do to those that don’t. With less of a chance to play at home, means you’ve practically doubled your chances of NOT getting a return on your investment. At the age of 33 (next year), it would seem that anything north of 2 years would be overly ambitious. Considering the mounting nagging injuries Ross has compiled over the course of this season, it could be a subtle red flag of things to come.
He’s very replaceable
I like Cody Ross. It’s kind of hard not to. But it’s not like there’s a shortage of dead-pull RH power, high FB% bats on the open market that could potentially be had for cheaper. Players like Ross aren’t exactly a scarcity and keeping with the laws of supply and demand, similar players could be had for less. What’s more is that exceedingly better players could also be had for minimal additional investment. While Ross was a boon to a team that didn’t have a lot of financial flexibility this past season, he seems like an overpay waiting to happen for a team that does heading into next year. With bigger fish in the sea, the Red Sox might be wise to invest their money in an upgrade, not an extended wager.
So do you resign him and if so, how much?
Resigning Ross will depend on a lot of other factors, but if the Red Sox are comfortable platooning an OF position again, he’s a reasonable option to consider. So long as it’s made abundantly clear that he won’t be hitting against RHP on the road and the Red Sox have someone who can (presumably Ryan Sweeney), Ross gives you the opportunity to get some value production out of the position again.
The complexity behind what to do with Ross comes from the moving parts around him. Currently, the Red Sox have Jackie Bradley, Bryce Brentz and Xander Bogaerts all looking as if they could crash the party within the next two seasons. While it’s true Ross could potentially act as an insurance policy, he could also end up blocking better, cheaper talent. Considering the prospects beginning to emerge on the horizon and better players out there that could be had for a comparable price, it’s more difficult to justify paying Ross a full time player’s salary over an extended period of time. After all – we shouldn’t forget that a large part of what got the Red Sox into the mess they’re in today was started largely by overpaying mediocre players, not good ones. Also worth mentioning is Boston’s well-documented history of pushing their odds on good-luck acquisitions and transforming them into outright liabilities (See Lowell, Mike). When coupled with the unprecedented financial flexibility the Red Sox bought themselves during this year’s blockbuster trade with the Dodgers, there will likely be more attractive options available. “Disciplined” means finding value, not overpaying for an extended run on the roulette wheel.
Also playing against Ross is that he won’t have a lot of leverage. There won’t be a GM alive who’ll look at Cody’s splits and not raise an eyebrow. Fantasies of Ross getting 3 years and $27 million seem vastly overstated to me. To be frank – he’s a lot more valuable in Boston (And Boston to him) then he would be anywhere else. While it’s true his best opportunity for a decent deal exists here in Boston, I don’t think it’ll be anywhere near as sweet as what people are speculating.
At the end of the day, a 1-year deal with a team option for a second year at $5-6 million a season seems reasonable for a guy who’ll should only be seeing about 375-400 PA’s/year. I’d hold the line there. Pushing their luck on middling players isn’t what the Red Sox meant to do when they ejected $250+ million from their payroll earlier this year. They pulled the tigger on the deal to escape that. This offseason shouldn’t be judged on what the Red Sox spend, but rather how they spend it. Overpaying for a platoon player isn’t my idea of ‘discipline.’ If Cody can do it again on team’s terms, give him his second year on his. If not, let him walk and wish him well.