PHILADELPHIA -- The transition from starter to backup did not go nearly as well as Mike Cameron or the Red Sox had hoped. Before Thursday's game against the Phillies, the Red Sox designated the veteran outfielder for assignment, effectively ending his stint with the team.
Boston now has 10 days to trade, release or reassign Cameron to a Minor League affiliate.
The Red Sox signed Cameron to a two-year, $15.5 million pact Dec. 16, 2009, hoping he could fight off Father Time and be their everyday center fielder.
Last season was a tough one for Cameron, as he experienced constant lower abdominal woes that ended his year on July 30, and ultimately required sports hernia surgery.
The hope the Red Sox had for this year was that after signing Carl Crawford, Cameron could be the perfect backup to play against lefties. Not only is Crawford left-handed, but so are Boston's other two primary outfielders -- Jacoby Ellsbury and J.D. Drew.
"We've been scratching our heads. I'll take the hit on this one," general manager Theo Epstein said. "We try to be disciplined with trying to look for players in their primes when we bring them in. Sometimes, you just can't do that. Mike was still a productive player when we got him, but -- this is all speculation -- maybe because of his advanced age, despite the great shape he keeps himself in, he had the significant internal injury, the double hernia, double groin surgery this winter, maybe it just made the recovery that much more difficult at his age."
Cameron, 38, has appeared in 33 games with the Red Sox this year, playing all three outfield positions, including 23 starts in right field and two in center field. He was 14-for-94 (.149) at the plate, with two doubles, three home runs, nine RBIs, nine runs and eight walks.
Epstein said the Red Sox might have been able to buy Cameron a little more time to get hot if not for a left ankle injury to third baseman Kevin Youkilis. Playing in a National League city, the club didn't feel comfortable playing a whole game without a backup infielder. So Yamaico Navarro was recalled from Triple-A Pawtucket to take Cameron's roster spot.
"We were trying to buy as much time as we could, trying to strike the right balance to let guys get untracked a little bit," said Epstein. "Mike's obviously got a great track record. Even last year, I mean, he was hurt, he still raked left-handed pitching. I think the expectation coming into the year is that he would help us against lefties, and it ended up just being a tough adjustment for him to a role he wasn't that familiar with.
"So we were trying to strike the balance between giving him enough time to get untracked, and then also realizing that it's an area of the club that we might need to try something new to give us a little bit more of a threat against left-handed pitching."
Darnell McDonald, who started Thursday's game in right field, has also struggled mightily at the plate this season. So has Drew, leaving the Red Sox with hardly any production in right field this season.
"As we talked about yesterday, there's room for improvement there. We just have to make that happen," Epstein said.
The Red Sox hope that Cameron, widely regarded throughout baseball circles as a class act, can resurrect his career elsewhere.
"He keeps himself in fantastic shape," said Epstein. "He worked his tail off on the rehab. There's a chance he goes somewhere else and snaps back into form and makes a huge difference for somebody."
Cameron has posted a .249 career average, with 375 doubles, 59 triples, 272 home runs, 950 RBIs, 1,046 runs, 847 walks and 296 stolen bases in 1,910 Major League games over parts of 17 seasons with the White Sox (1995-98), Reds ('99), Mariners (2000-03), Mets ('04-05), Padres ('06-07), Brewers ('08-09) and Red Sox ('10-11).
Because Cameron could use some regular playing time to find a groove, Epstein said there was remote chance he could accept an assignment to the Minor Leagues. However, being released or traded before the 10-day window expires are the likelier options.
"Mike's got a great reputation in this game for a reason," Epstein said. "He's been a really good player for a long time and a trusted veteran. [He has] great character, so we'll see what happens. We definitely wish him well. Everyone in that clubhouse does."
Whether it was Epstein and manager Terry Francona informing Cameron of the news, or teammates saying good-bye to him shortly before the start of Thursday's game, it was not an easy morning in the Red Sox's clubhouse.
"Very tough -- and tough for Theo," said Francona. "Theo did most of the talking, and I appreciated the way he spoke to Cam. As a player, I wish somebody maybe would have treated me like that. That's a hard thing to do, and I thought Theo handled it well. I thought Cam did, too, but I was really proud of Theo."
"He's a great teammate," said second baseman Dustin Pedroia. "He did a lot of things in the clubhouse and a lot of things on the field for us. He's going to be missed. He's one of the guys. It's tough, but I think that's the hard part about the business part of the game. He'll definitely be missed."
Perhaps the Red Sox will cross paths with Cameron at some point again this season.
"Solid guy," said Drew. "[He's a] great guy to have around the clubhouse, quality individual, and a Georgia boy as well. I wish him good luck. I know he's going to spend a little time with his family and see where things lead him, but I think he's going to come out on top, for sure."