The recent signing of Jayson Werth to the Nationals for seven years and $126 million changed the landscape of the outfield market. It may only be temporary, as Carl Crawford may not find the supposed seven years and $180 million he is now seeking, but the Red Sox may be better off locking up a lower-cost alternative that is right-handed, especially with an extension for new first baseman Adrian Gonzalez expected to be announced sometime before the 2012 season.
Two names have surfaced since yesterday, with the Nationals’ Josh Willingham coming up, and free agent outfielder Magglio Ordonez popping up as well. Both are right-handed and offer different kinds of success. Willingham would add another patient bat to a lineup full of them while giving the Sox a little bit more home run power, while Ordonez would more likely prop up his on-base percentage with a high batting average, and a slugging made mostly out of doubles. Ordonez has become more patient with time and has impressive plate coverage even now, striking out in fewer plate appearances than he walked last season as a 36-year-old.
Willingham posted a True Average of .311 last season, which was a career high but not that far above his recent production (.289 in 2008 and .298 in 2009). Ordonez has a similar three-year stretch, with a .304 TAv in 2010, and .297 and .281 for the two seasons prior. There really is no difference between the two in terms of offensive production, even if they both get there in different ways. Either player could spell David Ortiz at DH against left-handed starting pitchers as well, which is one way to improve an already potent Red Sox offense on the margins.
The main difference between the two is that Willingham is an acceptable glove in the outfield, while Ordonez is one of the poorer defenders around. Ordonez is also coming off of an ankle surgery that isn’t going to make him any more fleet of foot out there. His glove could be hidden a bit in Fenway though–playing bounces off of the wall may be difficult, but thanks to the shorter fence in left, left fielders do not need to range as much there. There is a reason it was fine for Manny Ramirez to patrol left field in Boston for as long as he did. This is not to say Ordonez would be a good defender in left, but he could at least be hidden a bit during home games, and his average arm would work better with a shorter distance to the plate as well.
This revelation that Willingham wouldn’t need the help of the Monster in the same way that Ordonez does makes him the more attractive acquisition, but getting him out of Washington may prove to be difficult. General Manager Mike Rizzo has a history of being difficult to deal with–last year, when the Red Sox needed bullpen help and inquired about Matt Capps, Rizzo asked for Boston’s best reliever, Daniel Bard, in return. Ignoring that Bard is younger, cheaper, and the better pitcher for the moment, let’s just focus on the fact that, when trying to improve their bullpen, Rizzo asked for a reliever in exchange for a reliever. Rizzo also bailed on trading Adam Dunn to the White Sox in what should have been a three-team deal, leaving Chicago stuck with Edwin Jackson, a pitcher they did not want. He has a reputation as being not exactly the best person to deal with, and it took less than 24 hours for Ken Rosenthal to report that the price for Willingham in a trade has been called “absurd”.
If the price for Willingham drops–and it may, as he is under the last year of team control with Washington and therefore a free agent following the season–then he would be my preference. I wouldn’t bet on it dropping enough to keep Boston interested though, especially when they have other options, and Ordonez, while a Type A free agent, was not offered arbitration by the Detroit Tigers–that means he would only cost the Red Sox what they paid him in a contract.
The Red Sox would be picking up a quality hitter that could add to their lineup either way. Either of these right-handers would most likely bat seventh, which is ridiculous when you consider that they rightfully bat in the middle of the lineup for their most recent teams. Do you have a preference for which bat Boston acquires? Let’s hear what you think in the comments.