Mike Cameron’s Place in Boston’s Outfield

With center fielder Mike Cameron rehabbing successfully in Pawtucket, it won’t be long before Terry Francona deals with an important question: what to do with him regarding the Red Sox outfield. To be sure, he isn’t going to be taking J.D. Drew‘s place in right field; Drew is batting decently and, more importantly, is making too much money ($14 million this season) to be a bench player. However, that still leaves the following players on the active roster whom Cameron will have to contend with: Jonathan Van Every, Jeremy Hermida, Darnell McDonald, Bill Hall. Let’s begin by analyzing Mike Cameron before the collision that took him out of the majors.

Mike Cameron with the Red Sox

So far this season, Mike Cameron is batting a meager .233: better than some Red Sox, but nothing to write home about. He has no RBIs or home runs. He has walked five times and struck out eight times. The only promising thing about him is that of his seven hits, three have been for doubles, giving him a respectable OPS of .694. Given his $7.75 million contract this season, it is hard to look at Cameron’s season and see much to be excited about with regards to his return. However, he has shown a little bit of power, a little bit of speed, and a decent glove in center field. It remains to compare him with the other Red Sox outfielders and see how he stacks up.

Versus Jonathan Van Every

While Van Every has hit a home run this season, he has not played nearly as well as Cameron has, making this an obvious choice in Cameron’s favor. Van Every is currently batting .188, with as many strike outs as Cameron in nearly half the number of at-bats. He also has no extra-base hits beyond the one home run, giving him a worse OPS. All in all, Van Every is just a bench player whereas Mike Cameron is a starter. Van Every has already been designated for assignment once and will likely be so once again once the starting outfielders return to the majors.

Versus Jeremy Hermida

Jeremy Hermida presents a more interesting comparison, even though he is more of a left fielder than center fielder. He has a higher average (.240) which when combined with his four home runs (not to mention 19 total RBIs) gives him a higher OPS as well (.758). He has had, however, over twice the number of at-bats that Mike Cameron has had. While the Sox gain a little bit of pop going with Hermida over Cameron, they also get someone who is very prone to striking out, having already done so 21 times. Considering the kind of smallball offense the Red Sox have had to play this season, they can ill afford to use a player who so regularly fails to even move runners along when he comes to the plate. His salary being half of Cameron’s ($3.345 million) aside, it still seems like the smarter choice is to go with Cameron. However, for now it may be possible to play both of them.

Versus Darnell McDonald

Darnell McDonald became a fan favorite with some clutch home runs and RBIs early on in his stint with the Red Sox, but let’s not forget that he is at his core a minor league player. His batting average, .239, is only slightly better than Cameron’s, as is his OPS (.744). Much of this is due to the home runs he hit in his first couple of games with the Sox. Since then, he has not done nearly as much to produce for this offense. He has only 11 RBIs and, again, many of these came in his first few games. He also has twice as many strikeouts (17) as Cameron in approximately twice as many at-bats. He strikes me as a very similar hitter to Mike Cameron, but he is a worse center fielder. He is not as quick, and his defense is not nearly as strong. To get their money’s worth out of Mike Cameron, he really ought to take McDonald’s place in center field upon his return. McDonald seems to be quickly backsliding into a player not really good enough to play in the major leagues for an extended period of time.

Versus Bill Hall

This is another easy choice: Mike Cameron. In more at-bats, Hall has a lower batting average (.217) and OPS (.650) than Mike Cameron does. He has only hit one home run and only driven in four runs. He is slower and was never signed to be a starting outfielder for the Red Sox. He is a bench player getting extra playing time because of injuries to the outfield. When the starters return, you will probably only see him in pinch-running or pinch-hitting situations, and I’d be surprised to even see him in the latter situation all that much, given his offensive struggles this season.

Cameron’s Future

We see that Mike Cameron presents a better option than anyone other than maybe Jeremy Hermida for center field. And while Hermida can hit with a little more power than Cameron can, it is to the Red Sox’s advantage to use Cameron simply because of the salary differences between the two players. In the end, I think Mike Cameron will make a decent player for Boston. He lacks power, certainly, but he makes up for it with his defense and his speed. Given Hermida’s pop, he probably would be better used in a pinch-hitting capacity. He can come off the bench in later innings and provide a little bit of power to a ball club that at times has suffered from a lack of it. But as a starter he is not as fast, and he strikes out a lot. He may also backslide, same as Darnell McDonald. After all, there is a reason Florida finally gave up on him.

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