For the past few weeks I’ve been trying to explain to Sox fans that are standing at the edge of Cliff 2012 fully prepared to jump before a single pitch is thrown that it’s highly unlikely we’ll end up worse than we finished last season. Why would we be? We got a historically bad year out of Adam Dunn. That can’t repeat itself, if it starts to, he’ll simply be benched. Alex Rios wanders around center field like he doesn’t have a care in the world. 99 problems and a fly ball ain’t one. If that continues, he should also be benched. Kosuke Fukudome provides that flexibility.
The Fukudome signing has been slammed by some because of the hype that came along with his stay on the North side. The fact of the matter is, he was and is not a terrible player. He was simply not a player worth his 14 million dollar a year salary. A little something I like to call Alex Rios syndrome. Frankly, Rios has played worse than Fukudome, but Rios has the ceiling that makes you want to keep letting him play until he finally breaks out and plays consistently like he should have years ago. Alex Rios was 1.5 wins below replacement level last year according to Baseball Reference. Fukudome was 2.8 wins into the plus column. That contribution would be good for 4th best among position players on the Sox in 2011. That’s a pretty good return on 1 million dollars, if we assume that he can repeat that. I don’t expect Fukudome to do anything amazing, just provide some positive value on a team that could use some.
A nice potential byproduct is the chance that adding an extra OF through agency makes Alex Rios scratch his chin a bit and wonder if maybe the Sox wouldn’t be willing to just let him earn the rest of his money from the bench. Obviously that could backfire when he says, “okay thanks,” and picks out a nice comfortable spot next to the Gatorade cooler. There is that slight chance the guy actually likes playing the game of baseball and is willing to work in order to continue doing so. It would be fairly easy for Ventura to slide DeAza over to CF (which he should do anyway and let Rios start in LF) and let Fukudome and Viciedo man the corner spots.
Back to the ‘no worse than last year’ statement, we lost Carlos Quentin and we lost Mark Buehrle. TCQ was always a question mark because of his health. When he was right, he was producing but from week to week we never knew if we’d see a full slate of games from him. Dayan Viciedo certainly has the potential to add comparable value, even if he hasn’t yet had the opportunity to prove it as full time player. If you don’t believe he has a shot at doing so, then your anger should have exhausted itself much earlier on, like when Kenny shelled out the bucks to sign him in the first place.
Losing Buehrle is a tougher hit and a bigger question mark. We could at the very least count on Mark for innings. His replacement, Chris Sale, may prove effective, but I don’t see that lanky frame logging 200+ innings for the Sox. Buehrle’s departure may be overstated due to nostalgia. I’m not immune to it; I’d prefer to have Buehrle in there too, but with a solid year from Sale we shouldn’t feel it too heavily.
A more statistically detailed, predictive breakdown of the Fukudome signing is available over at Call to the Pen.