The Boston Red Sox entered the offseason with some question marks in the outfield, but it's safe to say nobody expected Jonny Gomes would be the (initial) answer.
But he's Boston-bound after reaching agreement with the Sox, according to sources. While his arrival adds to the outfield picture, it doesn't provide much clarity.
Is this the end of Cody Ross' days in Boston? Gomes and Ross are similar players. Gomes' 2012 battling slash was .262 BA/.377 OBP/.491 SLG, while Ross' was .267/.327/.481.
Ross was popular in Boston, with a swing seemingly tailor-made to loft homers over the Green Monster. The problem is, he and Gomes are too alike to be an effective platoon: Both are right-handed, dead-pull hitters with power versus lefties (career OPS versus lefties: Gomes .894, Ross .928).
On the surface, the biggest difference between the two is defensive ability. Ross plays a solid right field, but Gomes is a liability, even in left field, though at least the Monster cuts down on the space he'll have to cover at Fenway. Gomes actually appeared in more games for Oakland last season as a designated hitter (53, including 46 starts) than an outfielder (42 games, 28 starts), but he has little value as a DH for the Sox, assuming David Ortiz is healthy.
Another minor consideration could be patience at the plate: Gomes drew 44 walks in 333 plate appearances over 99 games with Oakland last season; Ross had 42 in 528 PAs over 130 games. Perhaps the Sox are trying to get back to a more disciplined approach; Boston's .315 team OBP ranked 10th in the AL in 2012 (league average was .320). Then again, Gomes might simply have been a product of his environment in Billy Beane's original "Moneyball" wonderland of Oakland: His .377 OBP in 2012 was the best single-season mark of his career. His lifetime OBP is .334, compared to Ross' .324.
While Gomes certainly qualifies as a surprising addition for the Sox, it's too early to rule out a Ross return.
What does Gomes mean for the likes of Ryan Kalish and Daniel Nava (and Ryan Sweeney)? Realistically, Gomes has more experience in left field, and Ross is a natural fit in right field, so there's no reason they can't be in the same lineup at least some of the time -- i.e., against left-handed starters. And at $5 million per season, the Sox will want to give Gomes at-bats to justify the cost.
If the Sox do indeed intend to platoon Gomes, he'd make sense as a complement to Ryan Kalish, who bats left-handed and finally seems healthy and ready to contribute. The Sox may as well find out what they've got in Kalish.
Daniel Nava is a switch-hitter and thus also a potential option against righties, but appears to be on the outside looking in at this point. He held down Fenway's left field valiantly last season as injuries decimated the Sox's outfield (Ellsbury, Carl Crawford, Ryan Sweeney, et al), but slumped at the plate before landing on the disabled list himself. He had surgery last month to remove a cyst in his left wrist.
Gomes' addition is another sign that we've probably seen the last of Ryan Sweeney -- whose self-induced broken knuckle (and ensuing surgery) served as an apt metaphor for the Sox's 2012 experience. There's not much room for him to return to Boston, and it seems unlikelier than ever.
Is Jacoby Ellsbury on his way out of Boston? Gomes is a versatile, cost-effective asset to have as outfield depth -- especially if a huge deal shipping Ellsbury out for pitching and/or prospects is on the horizon. And even if GM Ben Cherington's plan is to hold on to Ellsbury and see how the 2013 season unfolds, Gomes is valuable insurance in case the Sox stumble out of the gate and end up moving Ellsbury at or before the trade deadline.
Is this a signal that the Sox won't make a big offseason move? For those hoping that the free-agent outfielder the Sox signed was Josh Hamilton, sorry. And don't get your hopes up. With Cherington making quiet moves thus far, it's a sign of his frugal, flexible approach to the roster. Adding David Ross and Gomes are solid, roster-filling moves, but it's hard to get excited about a backup catcher and a corner outfielder/DH who's a career .244 hitter.
Cherington has steered clear of costly, headline-grabbing moves, but again it's not even Thanksgiving. The winter meetings are still a couple weeks away, and the free-agent market is still in the initial stages. Rest assured that the Red Sox have only begun overhauling their roster.