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Shane Victorino, Boston Right Fielder

It looks like Shane Victorino is going to get three years and $37.5 million from the Boston Red Sox… to be their right fielder. A year after most of his game showed decline, but his defense remained mostly intact, Victorino will be used at a position that is mostly known for bat-first guys. It’s not all that bad, though. For one, the current Red Sox centerfielder is only under contract for one more year. And for two, Victorino’s drop-offs came in ways that might not be so dire.

Jacoby Ellsbury is the Boston centerfielder. His defense has settled in after a one-year blip, and he’s got more offensive upside than Victorino. Only one of his three seasonal outcomes have him ending up with the Red Sox long-term, though. At the very lest, Victorino can serve as a hedge against that bet, and a replacement should the team decide to trade Ellsbury for future talent.

That alone is not worth all the money Boston is throwing at him however, however. And if you take Victorino’s below-average 2012 batting line (94 wRC+) and put him in right field, you have a player that was more like a two-and-a-half win player last season. If you age him to two wins next season, and then continue that process over the four years of the contract, it’s not looking great for the 32-year-old “former” center fielder. He’d be worth about $27 million over three years.

So what went wrong with the Hawaiian’s bat in 2012? His walk rate (8.0%) and strikeout rate (12.0%) were right in line with his career numbers (7.8% and 11.6% respectively), so it wasn’t a plate discipline thing. He stole 39 bases and though his speed score (7.0) wasn’t quite as good as his career number (7.7), he was still fleet of foot. One problem was batted ball luck — his .278 batting average on balls in play was below his .296 career number despite having a batted ball mix (1.29 ground balls per fly balls) that was commensurate with his career (1.25 GB/FB).

But mostly the power fell apart. Victorino has had sneaky power his whole career, with a .154 isolated slugging percentage that slots in just above league average. But in 2011, that jumped up to a .212 ISO as he hit a career-high in triples and fell just a homer short of his career high there. A little bit of speed-related power loss chopped the triples number in half, and maybe some age killed some of power… and maybe he really wasn’t a .212 ISO kind of guy.

With a regular BABIP, and just a few more triples, it looks like Victorino could become an asset with the bat again. Perhaps on the level of 2010, when he accrued five runs with the bat. And if he fills in a little in center, he’ll add some value there, so his positional adjustment wouldn’t be on the level of a full-time corner outfielder. And maybe his defense will take a step forward in the corner outfield (it should.) Give him a few nudges here or there, and you can get his true talent in 2013 up over two and a half wins. Age that and add inflation, and you can nudge Victorino’s possible value over the next three years to $34 million.

Still not the full value of the deal. Maybe this means something for Jacoby Ellsbury‘s future in Boston?