The Red Sox entered this season with high hopes. Fast-forward 122 games and they’re a disappointing 59-63 with just 4% odds of making the playoffs. The front of the rotation has had issues preventing runs. Several members of the lineup have performed below their established level of production. Plenty of key contributors have spent time on the disabled list, and recent reports suggest players have a mutinous relationship with their manager.
Plenty has gone wrong for the 2012 Red Sox, but one of the bright spots has been Cody Ross. The 31-year-old outfielder, who signed for just one year and $3 million, has a .359 wOBA, 122 wRC+ and 2.4 WAR. His strong production has many wondering about his next contract. Ross has said that he’d like to return to Boston, and all signs point to the team having mutual interest. Ross may have put himself in line for a multi-year deal similar to Josh Willingham‘s most recent contract — three years and $21 million — despite being less consistent and not as talented. Willingham has produced in the 3 WAR to 4 WAR range during the past several seasons while Ross has been in the 2 WAR to 3 WAR range.
And then there’s this: the main area in which Ross excels — crushing lefties — can be replicated fairly easily. Interested teams may be able to acquire cheaper Ross-like production by considering a few players with similar skill-sets.
Ross’s platoon split is significant, and while he isn’t terrible against right-handed pitchers, the majority of the production that beautifies his overall line is attributable to beating up on opposite-handed hurlers. Ross has a career .395 wOBA against lefties and he is usually consistent in the .380-.400 range. This season, he has a .402 OBP, .766 SLG, .473 wOBA and 200 wRC+ against lefties. His .473 wOBA and 200 wRC+ ranks second in the American League to Billy Butler (.474 wOBA and 206 wRC+). His .436 ISO leads the junior circuit and is a mere six points behind Ryan Braun in all of baseball.
Against righties, Ross is below average, but not terrible. He has a career .308 wOBA and a 91 wRC+ when facing his same-handed brethren. His power output is solid, but Ross is really a glorified platoon player. Even this season, which looks like the best full year of his career, his numbers are amplified by tremendous production against lefties. He has a 92 wRC+ against righties and hasn’t really improved on that front.
Teams can succeed with him handling regular duty at an outfield spot, but it’s a risky proposition to dole out a fairly lucrative deal to someone who excels when lefties are on the mound but is ho-hum against right-handers. The major reason here is that righties tend to throw 70%+ of the innings in a season.
With that in mind, teams considering Ross this offseason should also take a look at Alfonso Soriano, Jonny Gomes or Chris Denorfia. All three players stand to produce as well as Ross, but without costing as much. Payroll isn’t necessarily a material concern for the Red Sox but these players potentially represent cost-efficient alternatives.
The Cubs have been shopping Soriano for quite some time and are on the hook for $38 million over the next two seasons. Recent reports suggested that Chicago would eat all but approximately $3 million per year of Soriano’s salary. At $6 million in 2013 and 2014, plus a prospect or two, Soriano could provide more balance at the plate at less of a cost. He isn’t a lefty-crusher like Ross, but is stronger against same-handed pitching and has wRC+ marks of 148, 109 and 106 against lefties in the past three seasons. He doesn’t get on base all that much but still has plenty of power: He has a .225+ ISOs since 2010.
Gomes is similar to Ross in that the bulk of his production has come against lefties. He has a career wOBA platoon split of .381/.317 and a career wRC+ split of 136/92. He has been worse than Ross against righties in recent years but hasn’t slowed down at all against lefties. He signed a one-year, $1 million deal with the Athletics this offseason and won’t cost any prospects to acquire when he hits the free-agent market.
Unlike Ross, Gomes is viewed as a defensive liability, even though his fielding marks don’t usually back up that assertion. Despite a strong season in Oakland, it’s hard to imagine Gomes signing for three years, $21 million. He could be the perfect fallback option for an interested party if Ross becomes too expensive.
Denorfia is an interesting player in this forum, as he has another year of arbitration eligibility and isn’t exactly similar to Ross, Soriano or Gomes. He is also a fairly underrated player because his offensive output has been suppressed in San Diego. When adjusting for league and park, however, Denorfia has impressive numbers. He has wRC+ marks of 113, 107 and 120 since 2010, and he rates well in the field and on the bases.
He also has a clear platoon split, with a career wRC+ split of 125/97, favoring lefties. However, he has performed above average against righties in two of the past three seasons. He doesn’t stand to make much money next season, and at 32 years old, he isn’t likely to be considered part of the Padres future. While he has struggled to stay healthy, he would represent a fine consolation prize to those that miss out on the Ross sweepstakes.
Ross is having a fine season and will probably sign a multi-year deal this offseason. But the performance inputs leading to his overall stat-line, and the specific components of his game that make him an attractive free agent target are not truly hard to find elsewhere. The players discussed above are but three examples that will likely cost less than Ross, despite producing similarly. Signing Ross is a perfectly suitable decision this offseason, but some teams might be better-suited to find a more cost-efficient alternative or the next Ross, as opposed to the outfielder himself.
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