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Saturday, November 24, 2012

Red Sox go good-guy route with Gomes

Jonny Gomes hardly is the most talented player available on the free agent market. But he is widely reputed as one of the most effective leaders.

For the reloading Red Sox, that’s an attractive quality. ...

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Jonny Gomes hardly is the most talented player available on the free agent market. But he is widely reputed as one of the most effective leaders.

For the reloading Red Sox, that’s an attractive quality.

Thus, on Thanksgiving eve, the Sox agreed to terms with Gomes on a two-year contract pending a physical, according to a source close to the veteran outfielder. Another source indicated the deal is worth a total of $10 million for Gomes, who turns 32 today and is coming off a strong season – 18 homers in 279 at-bats – with the Oakland Athletics.

Gomes’ role with the Red Sox isn’t entirely clear. A part-time player for most of his 10-year major league career, he has experience in both left field and right field despite being a below-average defender. He also has far better numbers against left-handed pitching and a swing that may be tailored for Fenway Park, making him a prime candidate to platoon with a left-handed hitter, perhaps injury-plagued prospect Ryan Kalish.

Regardless, Gomes’ best attribute is his positive presence in the clubhouse, something the Red Sox haven’t had in abundance for the past two seasons. For example, Gomes livened up the mood around the Athletics by marching around with former Sox right fielder Josh Reddick in matching yellow bathrobes.

Think of Kevin Millar with the 2004 Red Sox, and you get the idea.

“He makes things easier to deal with,” Reddick told the San Francisco Chronicle during the Athletics’ improbable run to the AL West title. “He takes tension out of the clubhouse and dugout. It doesn’t matter if he plays four (games) in a row or misses four in a row. He’s the same person every day.”

In some ways, Gomes is similar to fellow free agent outfielder Cody Ross, whom the Red Sox would like to re-sign but not for the three-year deal he may receive on the open market.

Both are right-handed hitters with pull power that leaves them well-suited to take advantage of the Green Monster. Both feast on left-handed pitching (Ross has a .942 career OPS against lefties, while Gomes’ number is .874). And both have upbeat personalities that help to unify the clubhouse.

The difference: Gomes is available for at least half of what it may cost to retain Ross. The addition of Gomes also won’t preclude the team from adding other outfielders, including potentially re-signing Ross.

In fact, general manager Ben Cherington has stated numerous times that the club remains in the market for a pair of outfielders to flank center fielder Jacoby Ellsbury.

As they remake the roster, the Red Sox appear to be giving strong consideration to how players will respond to the scrutiny of playing in a baseball-crazed market. Two years ago, they made splashy moves by trading for slugging first baseman Adrian Gonzalez and dynamic left fielder Carl Crawford, but their personalities – Gonzalez could be too passive; Crawford too thin-skinned – proved not to be the right fit.

“It is a factor,” Cherington said recently of whether certain traits are essential for success in Boston. “I don’t think there’s one personality that works. I think most of the players, in my experience here, that have thrived are ones that really like to play and don’t have a lot of fear.”

Gomes enjoyed a career revival after signing a one-year, $1 million deal with Oakland last winter. He started 74 games (46 as a designated hitter) and batted .262 with 47 RBI and a career-high .377 on-base percentage. Moreover, he made pitchers work, seeing an average of 4.05 pitches per plate appearance and walking once in every 7.6 plate appearances.

Overall, Gomes is a career .244 hitter with 136 home runs, 411 RBI and a .334 on-base percentage. But he has reached 400 at-bats in a season only once, in 2010 with the Cincinnati Reds, furthering the notion that he may best serve the Red Sox only as a platoon player.

Gomes spent six seasons with the Tampa Bay Rays, even gaining a measure of infamy with Red Sox fans for his role in a benches-clearing brawl in which he punched center fielder Coco Crisp and earned a five-game suspension. (Gomes and Crisp became friends and later teammates with the A’s.)

Over the past two seasons, Gomes has bounced from Cincinnati to the Washington Nationals to Oakland.

The A’s reportedly offered Gomes a two-year contract extension in September, but his
agents were unable to complete the deal. He has since changed his representation.