There were rumblings throughout the offseason of Mariner interest in free agent Mike Cameron, and vice versa. But a reunion with the popular Cameron, who replaced Ken Griffey Jr. in center field in 2000 and stayed in Seattle through 2003, when he was non-tendered, wasn’t to be. He signed a two-year, $15.5-million deal on Dec. 16 with the Red Sox, who opted to put Cameron in center and move Jacoby Ellsbury to left.
I talked today (Saturday) to Cameron, one of my all-time favorites to cover. He said signing with Boston was “a blessing. Being in the twilight of my career, man, and to have an opportunity to be on this squad, it’s great.”
Cameron, who recently turned 37, also confirmed that he did, indeed, consider a return to the Mariners, who would have used him in left, seeing as how they already have a Gold Glove caliber center fielder in Franklin Gutierrez.
“Seattle was brought up a little bit,” he said. “I had to throw out that I’d possibly have to play another position. Which, I mean, given the situation, that was probably one place I would have played left field for. I know how close in heart it (Seattle) is to my family. That would have been cool to do that. But when these guys called, which I really didn’t think was basically a chance in hell, because I thought for sure J.B. (Jason Bay) was going to come back here. I knew they already had Ellsbury. I don’t know, man. It just worked out. I’m going to take it and try to run with it.”
Cameron said the Boston opportunity came up so quickly that there was no time for anything substantial to develop with Seattle, which was considering multiple options for left field. Mindful of how the market had dried up the previous winter for players like Bobby Abreu who waited to sign, he decided it was prudent to pounce on Boston’s offer.
“It (playing for Seattle) was kind of brought up and thrown out there a little bit,” he said. “But this kind of materialized really quick. Seeing what’s taken place with other guys in the past, it wouldn’t have been beneficial for me to be waiting around. The opportunity came, and I said, well, I’d better take it and run with it. Some guys aren’t very comfortable coming into environments like this. I just figured, I’ve been through it all, and to be in this position here, with a chance to be on a really good baseball team, why not?”
I joked with Cameron that with all the current emphasis on defense, and the advent of stats like UZR (ultimate zone rating), people are getting a new-found appreciation of his ability. He didn’t buy it, even though you just know Theo Epstein and his staff were thinking defense, and crunched the numbers, when they signed Cameron and Adrian Beltre.
“As players, we don’t speak about stuff like that,” he said. “We don’t sit down and say, ‘My UZ rating was this, that or the other.’ We just play. That’s too much thinking for us, some of the things these guys come up with. At the same time, it’s like, yeah, we are going with defense, if that’s the case, but it starts with good starting pitching, and that’s what’s here, and a good back end of the bullpen.
“The pieces have already been in place here. I’m just looking to add, possibly, to what I’ve always done, maybe a little more being on a real good baseball team. If I add my two cents in, and Adrian throws his two cents in, basically, you’re looking at having Jason Bay back, in a sense. A lot of people are looking and saying, you have no 30, 40 homer guy. But if you can get some production power out of five or six guys, you have to look at it like that.”
Cameron is being modest, of course. His UZR of 10.0 for 2009 ranked third among major-league center fielders, behind only Gutierrez (an unreal 29.1) and B.J. Upton (11.0). Cameron would have given the Mariners by far the best defensive outfield in baseball (Ichiro rolled in at 10.5 UZR, tied for second among all right fielders).
One last Cameron quote, on Jack Zduriencik, who was a Brewers’ exec when Cameron signed with Milwaukee in 2008:
“He’s done a good job over there. One thing is, he’s true. When you get someone like that, that’s true, that has the background he has, you’re going to have a lot of good success. I see him putting the foundation over there like it was in the early 2000s when we were there. They have good starting pitching, and that’s where it all starts, first and foremost.”