There are a number of high-end names still on the market, including Michael Bourn and Josh Hamilton — a name Boston has been continually linked to this winter. Of course, it seems like Boston has been connected to just about every noteworthy free agent this year, which makes sense given the amount of money the team needs to spend.
Beyond adding another starting pitcher — the Sox’ next foremost need — a corner outfielder looks to be the last major need in Boston (assuming that they feel comfortable going forward with Jose Iglesias as their starting shortstop). While Hamilton may be Plan A, depending on his contract demands, the Sox’ reported backup plan of Nick Swisher may fit better into the kind of team the Red Sox have constructed with their moves so far this offseason.
The Red Sox have now added three major pieces to their starting lineup, two assumed regular starters in Mike Napoli and Shane Victorino, and an extra bat in Jonny Gomes. They also brought aboard backup catcher David Ross, who figures to get a fair amount of playing time if the Sox break up their current backstop logjam and trade either Jarrod Saltalamacchia or Ryan Lavarnway.
Of those four players, three (all but Victorino) have serious reputations as guys who put together tough at-bats and have no problem taking their walks or otherwise working deep into the count. Victorino himself isn’t a hacker at the plate, either.
In short, it isn’t difficult to see a common thread to Boston’s offseason additions thus far. If you want to pick out one new central piece of prevailing wisdom from baseball’s statistical revolution, it’s that “If you control the count, you control the game,” to quote Angels general manager Jerry Dipoto.
And this is precisely the philosophy around which the Red Sox are basing their new-look offense under general manager Ben Cherington. In addition to guys like David Ortiz and Dustin Pedroia, who have always done well in “controlling the count,” the Red Sox have added other pieces around them to complement that aspect of the game.
It’s not hard to imagine a lot of games with tired opposing starting pitcher during the 2013 season, with a deep Red Sox lineup making pitchers fight and claw for every out. And this is why adding Swisher would be such a boon for Boston.
Swisher has long been lauded for the amount of walks he takes and the rate at which he gets on base. It’s not just one of his foremost assets, he has one of the best eyes in all of baseball, continuing that excellence in 2012 with 4.26 pitches seen per at-bat, good for seventh in the American League. And adding another player who’s notorious for hanging in on tough at-bats would make an already-deep Red Sox lineup that much tougher.
Now, Swisher’s offensive numbers certainly may have benefited from playing in the wind tunnel that is new Yankee Stadium. Like Napoli, whose bat got to enjoy the hot weather of Texas, the offensive expectations for Swisher might need to be tempered a little bit. However, signing guys like Napoli and Swisher practically come with built-in insurance policies — hitters who control the count are far more likely to remain productive even as their timing and hand-eye coordination decline with age.
Moreover, Swisher looks like he’ll fall well within the Red Sox’ budget. For reasons that are completely understandable, teams are not only hesitant to go long term with Hamilton, but an elite player like him also takes a sizable financial commitment. Not that the Red Sox couldn’t afford the former addict, but there are less reasons to doubt or fear decline in a player like Swisher, who represents a more prudent investment.
But all of that is just details. The reason that Swisher makes so much sense for the Red Sox is because he is the veritable embodiment in one player of the core philosophy Boston is building its offense around: controlling the count.
Add Swisher, and the Red Sox’ lineup could easily be the least favorite to face by pitchers around Major League Baseball.
Photo via Flickr/Keith Allison