Boston Red Sox brass pulled a fast one over the winter with the signing of outfielder Jonny Gomes to a two-year, $10 million contract. Was GM Ben Cherington intentionally trying to be sneaky, or was this signing part of a much larger master plan gone horribly wrong?
Whatever the case, it doesn’t change the fact that the Red Sox have given themselves another problem that they don’t need.
The Red Sox gave free agent Gomes, a member of the Oakland Athletics in 2012, a $4 million raise in base salary. Think about that for a moment. That’s a pay increase amounting to four times his former salary. It also happens to be more money than they recently gave their starting catcher, Jarrod Saltalamacchia.
This comes after a season in which Gomes only played in 99 games and managed only 73 hits. At the time of the signing, the Red Sox emphasized that Gomes batted .262 (.299 against lefties) in 2012 and clubbed 18 home runs to help Oakland reach the postseason. That satisfied the critics to some degree because the thought across New England back then was that Gomes was being brought on as a role player—a guy that can fill in here and there and a right-handed power bat off the bench.
Apparently, that’s no longer the case.
What Cherington and the Red Sox failed to tell the fans about the Gomes signing was that it came chock full of red flags. Gomes is 32-years old and is set to begin his eighth season in MLB. Until now, he has never had a multi-year contract.
In fact, the Red Sox will be the fifth team he’s played for in the past six years. The Red Sox continue to use the terms “great clubhouse guy” and “team prankster” in describing Gomes, and while those descriptions may be true, they certainly haven’t been important enough to Gomes’ prior five bosses to make any of them think twice about letting him go. But overly faithful Red Sox fans and columnists have recently gone so far as to compare Gomes to former Red Sox first baseman Kevin Millar.
Not so fast.
Millar was a clown, a jokester, and a team guy in every sense of the word. Gomes may be all of those things as well. The difference, though, is that Millar was also one heck of a ballplayer. In the aforementioned 2012 season, Gomes struck out a whopping 104 times in only 279 official at bats, meaning 37.3 percent of Gomes’ at bats resulted in an unproductive out. In Millar’s three seasons in Boston, he struck out in only 18.2 percent of his at bats.
That’s an enormous difference. In the Red Sox 2004 World Series run, Millar played in 150 games and held a batting average of .297 for the year. Like I mentioned earlier, Gomes only appeared in 99 games in 2012. Millar was no role player. Gomes is, and that’s the problem.
When the Red Sox brought Gomes to Boston back in December, it was widely believed that a true left fielder would eventually be signed. At the time, Josh Hamilton and Nick Swisher were still available, and Cherington hinted that he was in preliminary talks with both. Now, with spring training right around the corner, Gomes and Daniel Nava remain the only left fielders on the current roster, and Gomes’ salary suggests that he’ll be out there more often than not. One can’t help but wonder if this is what Cherington and the Red Sox had planned all along.
Why else would they have given him such a generous contract?
(JM Catellier is the author of Fixing Baseball, a guide to restructing the Hall of Fame. Follow him on Twitter: @FixingBaseball.)