BOSTON -- A week into the 2014 season, the Boston Red Sox have made their first player acquisition, signing free agent utilityman Ryan Roberts, who had elected to take his opt-out from the Chicago Cubs at the end of spring training.
The Sox signed the 33-year-old Roberts to a major-league contract with a $1 million base, with another $1.25 million in a performance clause based on plate appearances.
"We felt like we needed to add another right-handed bat who was third-base capable," manager John Farrell said Monday. "We're in a little bit of a platoon situation at third base in the short run."
The Red Sox placed starting third baseman Will Middlebrooks (calf strain) on the disabled list on Sunday.
Switch hitter Jonathan Herrera started Monday night against right-hander Tanner Scheppers, but with the Rangers starting left-hander Martin Perez on Tuesday, Roberts will be in the starting lineup, Farrell said. Texas is throwing another left-hander, Robbie Ross, on Wednesday, so presumably Roberts will start in back-to-back games.
Herrera's splits were much better against righties than lefties last season with the Colorado Rockies (.747 OPS to .564), though the career difference is not as sizable (.667 vs. righties, .627 vs. lefties). Farrell did not mention it, but Herrera has had limited exposure at third base (43 games before this season), while Roberts has divided his time primarily between third base (217 games) and second base (197 games).
Roberts is with his fifth big league team, having played for the Blue Jays, Rangers, Diamondbacks and Rays before joining the Red Sox. By his own admission, he did not have a good spring with the Cubs (9-for-38, .237), and Farrell said Roberts has not faced live pitching in about 10 days.
The Rays used Roberts primarily at second base last season, where he showed some power in limited at-bats against lefties (four home runs in 87 plate appearances), while posting a .305/.345/.500 slash line.
Roberts is represented by Danny Horwits of the Beverly Hills Sports Council. Horwits said that Roberts had been in touch with four or five teams and had narrowed his options to two or three until the Red Sox called after Middlebrooks went on the DL.
To make room on the 25-man roster, the Red Sox optioned Brock Holt back to Triple-A Pawtucket after being here for just one game. To create room on the 40-man roster, the Sox placed knuckleballer Steven Wright on the 60-day disabled list.
Farrell said that Roberts' signing should not be construed as meaning the Red Sox are worried that Middlebrooks will be out for an extended period of time. Middlebrooks has not yet stretched the calf muscle beyond treatment, the manager said, but is feeling better.
Farrell acknowledged that calling up highly regarded third-base prospect Garin Cecchini was an option, but the Red Sox decided against it. Cecchini had six hits in his first dozen at-bats in four games with Pawtucket, including a double and four RBIs.
"We didn't think the time was right for Garin Cecchini," Farrell said. "Even though he put up some good at-bats, there is still some development to be had defensively. [Roberts'] right-handed bat balances our lineup."
Roberts, whose nickname is Tatman for obvious reasons, needlework covering nearly every square inch of exposed flesh, said he had a few anxious moments while waiting to see whether he'd land with another club.
"Like that Bud Light commercial where they pick the guy up and take him out on a wild, crazy journey and night, crazy journey," Roberts said.
No, he said, he didn't call anyone looking for a job. "I don't have anybody's number," said Roberts, who said he left the search to Horwits. "Probably a good thing I didn't."
Roberts, who will wear the No. 7 worn previously by the Drew brothers, Stephen and J.D., had his best season in 2011 with Arizona, where he was Stephen Drew's teammate. He had a .249/.341/.427 slash line in 143 games, with 19 home runs.
"I've been fortunate to play everywhere," said Roberts, who has played all four infield spots, both corner outfield spots and was an emergency catcher for a couple of clubs, Horwits said. "I feel comfortable everywhere on the diamond. I don't claim to be the best at every position, but I'm confident to get the job done if needed."