Cameron In, Bay Out

This post first appeared on BaseballDigest.com

Just hours after the news the Boston Red Sox signed John Lackey to a 5 year deal, the Boston Globe’s Extra Bases and ESPN.com are reporting that free agent outfielder Mike Cameron has signed a 2 year contract(contingent on passing a physical) worth up to $16 million dollars over the next two seasons.

This signing all but confirms that free agent outfielder Jason Bay will not return to Boston. Peter Abraham summarizes how Terry Francona can use Mike Cameron’s versatility to rest J.D. Drew and Jacoby Ellsbury in a recent post on Extra Bases:

… he’s an accomplished enough athlete to play in left, especially at Fenway. His presence gives Terry Francona a lot of flexibility. He can rest Jacoby Ellsbury when needed and use Cameron in center with Jeremy Hermida in left. Or Cameron can play right field when J.D. Drew need time off…

Mike Cameron has played for 6 different clubs during his 15 year career, most recently slugging 24 home runs for 2009 Milwaukee Brewers. He slugged at least 20 homers in each of the last 4 seasons, and had an OPS+ of 111 during 2008 and 2009. FanGraphs ranked Mike Cameron as the best defensive centerfielder in the National League, and third best in all of baseball for the 2009 season.

There is downside to signing Mike Cameron. He will be 37 years old on January 8th, and is on pace to be among the top 5 all time in career strikeouts by the end of this two year deal. At 30 years old, Jason Bay is in the midst of his career peak and Mike Cameron is at the wrong end of his 30s.

This signing may provide some insight into the retooling of the Boston Red Sox. Red Sox General Manager Theo Epstein has been quoted time and again, stating that the front office is committed to fielding a team that has the best opportunity to win as many as 95 games every year. By signing Mike Cameron for two years, they are not handcuffed by a 4 or 5 year deal with Jason Bay and will utilize their farm system without holding a player back or having a large long term financial commitment to an aging player. For example, 22 year old outfielder Josh Reddick is considered among the top 5 of the organization’s prospects and could be ready for the big leagues by 2012.

While Mike Cameron may not be an offensive machine that Jason Bay is, his defensive prowess will hopefully make up the difference. If John Lackey’s signing is the big Christmas present for Red Sox fans, Mike Cameron is a decent stocking stuffer!

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