Cameron, Lackey deals put BoSox in elite company

BY foxsports • December 15, 2009

Roy Halladay and Cliff Lee may have dominated the news cycle, but the Boston Red Sox dominated Monday.

As you have no doubt heard, the Red Sox, coming off a 95-win season and third-straight playoff berth, have added right-hander John Lackey and outfielder Michael Cameron. Those moves, of course, come days after the signing of Marco Scutaro and a couple of months after trading for Jeremy Hermida. For the winter efforts of GM Theo Epstein, the Sox are improved and in again in championship shape.

Most notably, there's Lackey, the reported recipient of a five-year deal that'll pay him something close to A.J. Burnett lucre. He'll improve an already impressive rotation. If the past five seasons are any guide -- and they are -- then Lackey will be good for 200-ish innings and an ERA that's comfortably south of 4.00.

There's reason to think he won't be worth the money at the back end of this contract (he's had health issues the last two seasons, and he's aging), but in the near-term he helps. Bill James, for instance, tabs Lackey for 208.0 innings and a 3.81 ERA in 2010. That's a reasonable expectation for Boston.

So the Boston rotation will shake out something like this: Jon Lester, Josh Beckett, John Lackey, Clay Buchholz (a serious breakout candidate), and either Tim Wakefield or a reconstructed Daisuke Matsuzaka in the fifth spot. One through five, is there a better rotation in baseball? Only Atlanta can mount a challenge.

And then there's Cameron. Some fans in Boston will be disappointed that Cameron is the apparent replacement for Jason Bay. Yes, Bay can hit, but that's all he can do. He hurt the Sox badly with his limited range in the field. Cameron, meanwhile, is a plus fielder in center, and if he replaces Bay in left then he'll constitute a massive defensive upgrade -- something like an improvement of 25 or more runs over the course of a full season. His addition also means that there's no reason to let Jeremy Hermida ever face a lefty, and that's a good thing.

Additionally, Cameron is also better in center than Jacoby Ellsbury, so deploying him there and moving Ellsbury to left is also an option. Cameron's also better than you might think with the bat. He doesn't hit for high averages and strikes out quite a bit. However, his substantial secondary skills -- i.e., hitting for power and drawing walks -- make him a useful hitter and of the most underrated performers of the contemporary era (he'll almost certainly retire with 300-plus homers and 300-plus steals).

And as a right-handed hitter with fly-ball tendencies, playing his home games in Fenway might help his numbers. In fact, 60 extra-base hits in 2010 is a likelihood. All of this, of course, is to say nothing of Cameron's excellent base-running. Once defense is accounted for, Cameron figures to be as valuable as Bay in 2010. The Sox have maintained likely performance levels in the outfield at a fraction of the cost.

As for those earlier additions -- the aforementioned Scutaro and Hermida -- they'll also help. The Sox have famously struggled to find a reliable shortstop for several years. Scutaro is 34, so he won't be a solution for years and years to come. He will, however, help Boston in the here and now. Last season, Boston shortstops combined to hit .234 AVG/.297 OBP/.358 SLG, while Scutaro with the Blue Jays authored a batting line of .282/.379/.409. That's above his career norms, but Scutaro's improved plate discipline (career bests in walks, walk percentage and pitches-per-plate-appearance) suggests that his jump in OBP might be sustainable.

Boston's organizational emphasis on plate discipline can only help. At the very least, Scutaro will constitute an upgrade over what was in place last season, both at the plate and in the field.

Hermida, meanwhile, is another positive. As mentioned, the Cameron signing means that Terry Francona can limit Hermida's exposure to left-handed pitching. On that point, it's worth noting that Hermida is a substantially better hitter against the opposite side. He gives the Sox depth and options in the outfield.

As well, the Sox -- a high-revenue franchise -- still have the payroll flexibility for an upgrade at third base (that wouldn't have been the case if they'd re-signed Bay instead of landing Cameron). Adrian Beltre, for instance, is rumored to be of interest, and he'd be a helpful addition.

All in all, it was productive day for the Red Sox and a productive winter. The front office has bettered the team and left the hated and aging Yankees with more worries than assumptions.