Crawford deal won't turn Cameron into castoff
Veteran will serve as key backup to injury-prone outfielders
BOSTON -- Five minutes after signing Carl Crawford, Red Sox general manager Theo Epstein called Mike Cameron and told him he's still more than wanted in Boston.
"Cam was really excited and the ultimate class guy and ultimate teammate," Epstein said Saturday morning at Fenway Park as Crawford was introduced. "He said, 'Whatever, whatever you guys need me to do to fit in this team, I'll do."
Cameron turns 38 in January, and with Crawford, Jacoby Ellsbury and J.D. Drew in the fold for 2011, Cameron doesn't have a starting spot in the Red Sox's outfield. Still, Crawford's signing doesn't mean that Cameron has become the odd man out.
Of those four outfielders, Cameron is the only one who hits right-handed, and he just happens to rake against left-handed pitching. He batted .357 against southpaws in 2010, and his lifetime .269 average against lefties is 25 points better than his mark against righties. His lifetime OPS against lefties is .866.
Throw in the fact that Cameron, a center fielder most of his career, can still play anywhere in the outfield -- and may need to at some point, considering the injury history of the other outfielders -- he's a commodity.
"This role is something he can embrace and really make the most out of and have a tremendous impact on this club with all the left-handed hitting that we have," Epstein said.
He's also an expensive commodity. Signed to a two-year deal before last season, Cameron is owed $7.25 million in 2011.
ESPN's Jayson Stark reported on Twitter that the Red Sox have received inquiries about Cameron, which Stark said they are listening to while also telling teams they don't intend to move him. Epstein said Saturday he had not addressed a trade with Cameron.
"I didn't talk to him about the possibility of a trade; I talked to him about his role going forward with this club," Epstein said. "He's very supportive of everything."
A good insurance policy, though, is never a bad thing. An April collision with Adrian Beltre kept Ellsbury shuttling on and off the disabled list most of last season, and Drew hasn't played more than 140 games since 2006.
Crawford's reached 600 at-bats the past two seasons and is less of an injury risk.
Cameron himself underwent surgery on an abdominal tear in August, but he's expected to be ready for Spring Training. He hit .259 with four home runs and 15 RBIs last season in 48 games, and would provide pop off the bench. Before 2010, he reached 20 homers for four straight seasons.
In a pinch-hit role, though, Cameron would also bring a high career strikeout rate. He's gone down without putting the ball in play in 24.2 percent of his career plate appearances.