Plugging the right field hole left by the eventually departed Nick Swisher is going to be one of the Yankees’ biggest challenges this winter, especially given their self-inflicted payroll cap heading into next season. Top free agents like Hamilton, Michael Bourn, B.J. Upton, and even Swisher would look wonderful in pinstripes next year, but the team is unlikely to spend the kind of dough required to reel them in. They’ll instead mine the bargain bin.
One free agent outfielder whose stock is down coming off a subpar year is Shane Victorino, who will turn 32 in a little more than a week. The rebuilding-ish Phillies traded him to the Dodgers at the deadline, but he only hit .245/.316/.351 (88 wRC+) in 235 plate appearances with Los Angeles to close out the season. By late-September he was losing playing time to former Yankee Juan Rivera, among others. Victorino is just one year removed from a 13th place finish in the MVP voting though, so let’s see if he has enough left in the tank to help the Yankees.
- Just a .255/.321/.383 (94 wRC+) hitter in 2012, Victorino is one year removed from a .279/.355/.491 (133 wRC+) effort. He owns a 109 wRC+ over the last three seasons and crushes left-handers: .323/.388/.518 (148 wRC+) in this year and .318/.396/.550 (157 wRC+) since 2010.
- Victorino definitely qualifies as a contact hitter, striking out just 12.0% of the time this season and 11.7% of the time over the last three seasons. His contact rates (86.8% in 2012 and 86.7% since 2010) are strong as well.
- You’re going to get some walks in addition to that contact as well. He walked in 8.0% of his plate appearances this year and 8.5% since 2010, which is basically league average. Many contact guys are hackers, but not Victorino. He also stole 39 bases this year (87% success rate) and has topped 25 steals five times in the last six years.
- Victorino remains a strong defensive outfielder, doing his best work in the corners even though he’s more than capable of playing center. His throwing arm isn’t the strongest in the world, but he gets rid of the ball quick and is pretty accurate.
- For what it’s worth, Victorino plays really hard and that’s always pleasing to the eye. He also has plenty of pennant race and postseason experience given his time with the Phillies.
- Because he was traded at midseason, the Dodgers could not make Victorino a qualifying offer and thus he won’t require draft pick compensation to sign. I doubt they would have offered anyway.
- Obviously Victorino’s offense took a step back this season, and his struggles come exclusively against right-handers. He hit just .229/.296/.333 (73 wRC+) against righties this year and .244/.311/.390 (91 wRC+) since 2010.
- Although he avoided the disabled list this season, Victorino has been on the DL three times in the last three years and four times in the last five years. They were all minor strains (thumb, oblique, thigh, calf), but he tends to get banged up by playing so hard. Call it Slade Heathcott Syndrome.
The Pros greatly outweigh the Cons, but the inability to hit right-handers is pretty significant. He can’t hit righties despite being a switch-hitter, meaning he’d be relegated to the short end of the platoon stick. Perhaps the friendly right field porch in Yankee Stadium improves his output from the left side of the plate, but he’s not a big fly ball guy to begin with. He’s a line drive/ground ball guy who uses his speed to reach base. Being unable to hit righties is a pretty huge negative.
We haven’t even reached the Winter Meetings yet, and already we’ve seen two good but flawed outfielders since lucrative multi-year contracts. Torii Hunter landed two guaranteed years from the Tigers despite being 37 years old while Melky Cabrera received two years from the Blue Jays coming off a PED-related suspension. The market is flush with cash and teams seem willing to give that extra year to get their man. The Yankees, however, are fixated on one-year contracts in an effort to get under the luxury tax threshold in 2014.
That commitment to one-year deals hurts their chances to sign Victorino, who will presumably get offered starter money (and playing time) at some point this offseason. He would be the absolute perfect platoon guy/fourth outfielder for New York though given his ability to mash lefties, play all three outfield spots, run, and make contact. The Yankees have had success getting veteran players to take on reduced roles on one-year contracts in recent years, but Victorino strikes me as too young for that. I’d love to see them grab him as an Andruw Jones replacement on a one-year deal, even if they wind up paying him like $8M, but I have a hard time seeing those terms working for the player.