Cameron open to manning center or left
Veteran's flexibility a factor in getting deal done
BOSTON -- When the Red Sox take the field the night of April 4 for their season opener against the defending World Series champion Yankees, will Mike Cameron run out to left field, flanked by the Green Monster? Or will he charge out to center field, the position he has played at a high level for most of his career?
On Wednesday, as the Red Sox officially announced the signing of Cameron to a two-year, $15.5 million deal, there was no answer to that question. At least not yet.
Manager Terry Francona loves to remind reporters that there's no need to make out a lineup card in December. And this is yet another example of that, as the Red Sox could switch Jacoby Ellsbury from center to left or play Cameron there.
Though Cameron has started just one game in left field in his career, Ellsbury got comfortable there in 2007, when he filled in for the injured Manny Ramirez, and he also spent some time in front of the Monster in 2008, when Coco Crisp was still with the team.
"I think what we need to do -- and I've already talked to Cam about this -- is in the next week or so, I need to sit down with [general manager] Theo [Epstein], Mike, Jacoby and, probably, [bench coach] DeMarlo [Hale], and figure out what's in our best interest," said Francona. "But I need to talk to everyone. It's been kind of a whirlwind week for everybody, so we'll sit down and try to put the right pieces in the right place. I have some ideas on it, but I want to talk to everybody first."
Though Cameron's reputation as a strong defender in center is well known, Epstein appreciates the veteran's openmindedness. In fact, it was a catalyst in getting a deal done.
"The key part for us is from Day 1, through [agent Mike Nicotera], Mike told us he would do whatever was necessary, play any position, to help the club win," said Epstein. "Once Mike expressed that attitude, it really got our attention, and we realized he could be an important part of the outfield if things fell a certain way. So I think there are a lot of different intriguing possibilities, a lot of setups in the outfield.
"As Tito said, it's important not to rush into the decision, just to take a few weeks and let Tito and the staff think about the possibilities. We want to do whatever it takes to win, and obviously, he's an outstanding center fielder capable of being on the corners as well."
It should be noted that the last time Cameron played anywhere but center field was on Aug. 12, 2005. Playing right field for the Mets in a game at San Diego, he had a harrowing collision with center fielder Carlos Beltran that caused facial fractures.
But he doesn't seem to have any reservations about returning to a corner spot if that's what the Red Sox decide.
"I know that the one thing I always have in my bag is a ticket to play center field," Cameron said. "And being able to add another dimension to that, being able to play a corner, I'm not really apprehensive about doing it, because they say whatever doesn't kill you makes you stronger. So with that being said, I have an opportunity to maybe go back and to be a better left fielder or right fielder than anybody else because of the ability I have, and then obviously, I've been able to maintain playing center field.
"I'm not really afraid of [playing left or right]. I was, maybe, about my first week when I went back on the field [after the collision]. I went right to center field in San Diego. The good lord put me in a special place, because that was the place I got hurt, and I had to overcome my fears right away. So it was pretty easy for me to make the transition to whatever I need to get done."
Though Cameron has always received accolades for his glove, the Red Sox are also enthused with the thump he figures to provide at the plate. Will he be Jason Bay? Probably not. But the Red Sox know what they are getting.
"We have a lot of on-base guys throughout the lineup, and Mike's a guy who gets his 20 to 25 home runs a year," said Epstein. "He's a very consistent performer. He's a threat out there. He's not somebody that pitchers can take lightly.
"Primarily, he's a pull guy. He fits perfectly into Fenway Park. And as he said, he could put some dents in the wall or over. And he sees a lot of pitches. Mike takes his walks, and I know he strikes out a lot, but that doesn't scare us. We have a lot of productive hitters here who have struck out a lot. Strikeouts are OK as long as they come, as they often do, with walks and home runs. And in Mike's case, they certainly do."
Though he will be 37 by Opening Day, Cameron has kept his numbers steady the past few years. How has he staved off the aging process?
"I guess good parents, for one, good genes," he said. "Other than the two major injuries that I've had, I've been able to maintain a pretty good body. I've been able to take care of myself pretty good. And then, at the same time, being knowledgeable of what kind of goes on with your body in the course of a baseball season. Obviously, I have a lot of nicks, bumps and bruises and everything. And also part of it, too, is having a real sound mind, a really tough mind about how you have to go about to prepare yourself."
His toughness was tested to the limit after he crashed into his friend Beltran.
"Like I said: Five years ago, almost five years ago, I almost never got up to play the game and put a Major League uniform on again," Cameron said. "So every day I get a chance to play now is definitely a privilege. If I sound a little more excited than I normally am, I really am a little bit nervous, because this is a pretty special moment."
Ian Browne is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.