No one doubts that Cody Ross has been one of the foremost bargains in baseball among last winter’s free agents. He continued to make his case in that regard on Sunday, robbing Orioles outfielder Adam Jones of a home run and then later delivering the game-winning RBI double in the Red Sox’ 2-1 victory.
On the year, Ross is hitting .270 with a .333 OBP, a .491 slugging mark, an .824 OPS and 21 homers in 121 games. Among 35 American League outfielders with at least 400 plate appearances, he ranks seventh in slugging and 11th in OPS and (despite missing about a month with a foot fracture) is tied for 13th in homers. He’s been a well-above-average offensive outfielder.
Still, in some respects, the terrific returns he’s offered on his one-year, $3 million deal with the Red Sox can’t hold a candle to the jackpot he represented in a pair of previous deals.
“I got traded one time for a dollar. One dollar,” recalled Ross. “The Marlins gave the Reds a dollar. There has to be a money transaction, so they gave them a dollar. Then I got sent to the Giants for nothing. That's two trades for a total of one dollar.”
With the Marlins, Ross emerged as an everyday power-hitting outfielder for parts of five seasons. With the Giants, he became a key contributor to the franchise’s first-ever World Series title in San Francisco. Suffice it to say, the returns were considerable.
“I haven't been traded for a whole lot. Some teams,” he added with a grin, “have made out pretty well.”
Yet even the two transactions for a dollar do not truly encapsulate the complete bizarre trajectory of Ross’ frequent relocations. At 31, he’s already changed teams four times in his career; few of those changes have been of the conventional start.
Here’s the Cody Ross transaction timeline:
April 1, 2004: Traded by Tigers to Dodgers for Steve Colyer
This was the 2x4 to the side of the head.
Ross was drafted by the Tigers in the fourth round of the 1999 draft and made his big league debut at the end of a 2003 season in which the Tigers were one of the worst clubs in baseball history. His promising arrival came to a brutal end on Sept. 2, 2003, a day when he hit his first career homer and then later tore his ACL while running out a sacrifice bunt.
Still, he’d shown promise coming up through Detroit’s system, and at a time when the team was in rebuild mode, Ross figured he had a shot at a long future with the Tigers. And so, when he was summoned for a meeting with GM Dave Dombrowski and numerous Tigers officials at the end of spring training, he was baffled.
“A lot of times, you know when you’re on the trading block. You know if you’re out of options or a bubble guy. It wasn’t like that for me,” Ross recalled. “I think I had two options left. I was young. I was 22, maybe, a prospect for them. I thought I was, not untouchable, because no player is untouchable, but I didn’t think I was going anywhere.
“I didn’t know how to feel about it. I was young and so I was kind of upset. I remember, I think I got a little teary-eyed. I’d built a lot of really good relationships over there, knew the organization really well and thought I was going to be a Tiger forever.”
Being dealt from the Tigers (for hard-throwing reliever Steve Colyer) was difficult enough, but the destination made it even worse. Ross was traded from Detroit to the Dodgers -- essentially walking into a hornet’s nest.
“I remember walking into the Dodgers clubhouse scared to death. I didn’t know, really, anybody. And in A-ball, we had gotten into a bench-clearing brawl against them,” remembered Ross. “A lot of those guys were over there, and I was like, ‘Oh, great.’ ”
Suffice it to say that Ross had played a not inconsiderable role in that brawl, and so there wasn’t exactly a welcome mat put out for him in his new organization. He spent most of two years with the Dodgers playing in Triple-A Las Vegas, playing a grand total of 22 big league games in the big leagues before being dealt in 2006.
Perhaps the two best things that Ross remembers about his time with the Dodgers are that a) it prepared him for subsequent career moves and b) that he was dealt by Los Angeles in April 2006.
“I went over to LA and never really found a niche over there. I felt like I kind of got lost in the shuffle. Luckily, they designated me and traded me to the Reds,” Ross recalled. “It was just an eerie, sickening feeling from the get-go, just something that I almost want to forget about. It was just a steppingstone, though, in my journey, and it makes you better as a person and player.”
April 24, 2006: Traded by Dodgers to Reds for player to be named (Ben Kozlowski)
Ross had a brief and undistinguished career with the Reds. Acquired for a player to be named in 2006, he joined the Reds on April 24, stepped to the plate as a pinch-hitter that night and … promptly had his finger broken when he was hit on the left hand by a Roy Oswalt fastball -- while swinging at a pitch to conclude a strikeout.
He didn’t suffer a fracture, but he landed on the disabled list with what was described as a bruised pinkie. At the time, Ross was out of options, so he was sent to Triple-A for a lengthy rehab assignment before being activated on May 24, going 1-for-4 and then being dealt to the Marlins two days later.
“The Reds ended up being a blessing by trading me to the Marlins," Ross said. “That’s where I ended up finding my little niche. Everything happens for a reason.”
May 26, 2006: Purchased by Marlins from Reds
By this point, Ross had played all of 30 career games in the big leagues. But at 25, he finally got his shot.
For the Marlins, it was a no-lose proposition. After all, the cost of acquisition was less than a cup of coffee.
Ross got 91 games in the big leagues with the Marlins in 2006 and didn’t perform particularly well. He hit .212/.284/.396/.680 with 11 homers, but he showed enough potential (with power, plate discipline and the ability to play all three outfield positions) that he stuck.
Then, in 2007, he broke through. Though he was limited by injuries to 66 games, he made the most of them, hitting .335/.411/.653/1.064 with 12 homers. He was young, inexpensive and productive, and thus he was assured of a big league future.
Aug. 22, 2010: Selected off waivers by Giants from Marlins
Ross remained with the Marlins for more than four years, though amazingly, despite the fact that Florida had spent just $1 to acquire him, the team received even less in return when sending him away in 2010.
Ross was earning $4.45 million in 2010 in his second year of arbitration eligibility. The Marlins were almost certain to part with him following the 2010 season, and so when the Giants placed a waiver claim on him in August 2010, the Marlins cut bait.
The deal caught Ross by surprise, given that he’d remained with the Marlins after a busy season of trade rumors at the July 31 deadline that year. He recalled the conversation with president of baseball operations Larry Beinfest.
“I did not see it coming at all. When they called me in the office and told me, I was shocked, like, 'Serious?'
They were like, 'Yeah, we just sent you to the Giants?'
I said, ‘OK, what'd y'all get back?’
"Sweeeet," Ross recalled with a laugh. "I'm glad I meant so much to those guys. But obviously, it ended up being a blessing.”
There were some suggestions at the time that the Giants had merely wanted to block the Padres -- with whom they were in an NL West scrum -- from claiming the outfielder. San Francisco GM Brian Sabean immediately reassured Ross that such was not the case.
“Sabean called me in his office as soon as I got there and said, 'Listen, no matter what you heard, blocking this guy from this team or whatever -- none of that is true. We wanted you. We felt like you would be a big part of this team trying to make it to the playoffs,' ” Ross remembered. “When he told me that, it was like, 'Awesome -- thank you.'
“When a team is trying to make it to the playoffs and they acquire you to help them, that says something. I appreciated that. I didn't know what my role was. He had about eight outfielders at the time. But it ended up working out.”
Yes, it did.
The waiver claim ended up paying incredible dividends, as Ross emerged as a postseason hero. He won NLCS MVP honors while slamming five homers that October, helping the Giants to a World Series.
Jan. 26, 2012: Signed one-year, $3 million deal with Red Sox
Ross remained with the Giants last year, but a residence in AT&T Park did his numbers few favors. He hit .240/.325/.405/.730 with 14 homers -- respectable totals (particularly against left-handers) but not exactly the ideal performance for the outfielder heading into free agency.
Still, Ross did have multiple multi-year offers on the table. He could have secured a two-year deal worth between $3 million and $5 million per season.
But he instead opted to sign a one-year deal with the Red Sox, essentially placing a bet on himself. He wanted to demonstrate that his 2011 numbers were an aberration, and that placed in a favorable home hitting environment, he could produce numbers that were considerably more impressive.
“I had multi-year offers on the table and I wanted to prove to people that I was a better hitter than what I had put up in the past in San Francisco -- a non-hitter's park,” Ross said. “I felt like this was a perfect spot for me to get my value back up, and basically I rolled the dice on a one-year deal.”
It would appear that Ross has rolled a seven. The outfielder has been a force at Fenway, hitting .299/.356/.573/.928 with 13 homers in 64 home games (compared to a .237/.306/.396/.702 line with eight homers in 58 road games).
As a right-handed pull power hitter who can generate tremendous loft, his swing has been one of the best-suited for Fenway Park that hitting coach Dave Magadan has seen in his Red Sox tenure.
“He's pretty much up there at the top of the list. I know [Adrian] Beltre really enjoyed playing at Fenway, Jason Bay,” Magadan said. “You still have to do damage on the road. You can't do all your damage at home. He's still a pretty good hitter, but it's certainly nice to know that you can get comfortably out in front of the ball and still be able to bang it off the Monster. It creates a lot of confidence.
“But he's just a good hitter. He still can use the whole field, a lot like Mike Lowell, when there's an RBI situation,” he continued. “He's a good hitter who plays with a lot of confidence at home. It's nice to be rewarded when you hit a ball well to be able to drive in a couple of runs.”
The fit of Ross in Fenway has helped to make him an excellent bargain for the Red Sox this year. For $3 million -- roughly the going rate of a middle reliever in free agency -- he’s given the Sox one of the better offensive outfielders in the league.
That, of course, has him well-positioned for his next trip of free agency. Still, the nomadic Ross appears to prefer putting down roots than going through yet another transition.
With his next contract, the bar will be set considerably higher for Ross if he is to maintain his status as a consistent bargain. Nonetheless, he seems interested in finding middle ground with the Red Sox in hopes of doing just that.
“There's definitely a mutual deal that we both want to make this work,” Ross said on WEEI’s postgame show on Sunday. “I want to come back. They want me to come back. I'm still just going out and playing right now, letting my agent take care of that. They'll talk it through. Hopefully I'll find myself in this uniform next year. That would be nice.”