Mike Cameron cut loose by Red Sox

PHILADELPHIA -- Mike Cameron's career with the Boston Red Sox essentially ended when Kevin Youkilis woke up Thursday morning with a sore left foot.

As general manager Theo Epstein described it, that was the sequence of events that led the Red Sox to designate the 38-year-old outfielder for assignment, meaning the team has 10 days to trade him, waive him or release him.

Cameron's spot on the roster was extremely tenuous, given his .149 average and 3-for-39 slump. But when Youkilis fouled a ball off his left foot Wednesday night, then reported his foot was still very sore the next morning, Epstein decided he had to make a move. The Sox recalled right-handed hitting Yamaico Navarro, an infielder by trade who was given a hasty tryout in the outfield by Triple-A Pawtucket and satisfied the team that he could handle the position.

Although X-rays were negative on his foot, Youkilis said he woke up feeling worse this morning than after the initial hit.

"I didn't think it'd be anywhere near what it is today," he said.

"Our hand was forced a little bit," said Epstein, who met with reporters after a closed-door session with Cameron in which he informed the 17-year veteran of the club's decision.

"It's not a move we were looking to make necessarily. We were trying to strike the right balance, buying guys as much time as we could to let them get untracked a little bit.

"Mike obviously has a great track record. Even last year, when he was hurt, he still raked left-handed pitching. The expectation coming into the year is he would help us against lefties. But it was a tough adjustment for him, to a role he was unfamiliar with. We were trying to strike a balance of letting him get untracked, but also realizing that's an area in the club we might need to try something new and give us a little more of a threat against left-handed pitching."

Manager Terry Francona said it was difficult to cut ties with Cameron.

"Very tough," Francona said. "Tough for Theo, too. Theo did most of the talking. I appreciate the way he spoke to Cameron. As a player I wish maybe somebody had talked to me like that. It's a hard thing to do, and I thought Theo handled it really well. ... I'm really proud of Theo. He talked to him with the respect he deserved."

Navarro is a 23-year-old native of the Dominican Republic who made his debut for the Red Sox last season and batted .143 (6 for 42) with no home runs and five RBIs in 20 games. He saw a lot of action in spring training for the Sox, hitting .237 in 19 games, and got off to a great start in Pawtucket, batting .329 through May 7. But he then missed the next five weeks with a strained oblique muscle and has struggled mightily since, batting just .116 (5 for 43).

"Navarro has shown a pretty potent bat against lefties in minor leagues," Epstein said. "He has a lot of bat speed, he's an aggressive hitter, and he can hit the ball out of the ballpark. We moved him around this year. He can play short, third, second. We exposed him a little to some corner outfield. He has limited experience out there but has done a nice job.

"In an ideal world we'd have someone with more experience, but he's a versatile guy who can hit left-handed pitching, and he's got a chance to help us. And our right-field situation is far from ideal."

Cameron still has roughly $3.6 million left on a contract that calls for him to be paid $7.25 million this season. The Red Sox signed him to a two-year, $15.5 million deal in December 2009, with the intention of installing him as their every-day center-fielder and moving Jacoby Ellsbury to left.

That plan never materialized, as Ellsbury fractured five ribs in a collision with third baseman Adrian Beltre at the end of the season's first week and barely a week later Cameron was sidelined with a kidney stone and then by an abdominal tear. Cameron came back from a month-long stint on the DL and gamely tried to play through the injury, but eventually he was shut down for the rest of the season on Aug. 2 after batting .259 with four home runs and 15 RBIs in 58 games.

With the addition of Carl Crawford before this season, Ellsbury returned to center field, and Cameron, who had always been an every-day player, was counted upon to be a fourth outfielder and occasional platoon partner with J.D. Drew in right field. He appeared recovered in spring training but got off to a dreadful start, and outside of a two-homer game against the Mariners on April 29, he didn't hit. Only twice all season was his average as high as .200.

"We've been scratching our heads," Epstein said of Cameron's struggles this season. "I'll take the hit on this one. We try to be disciplined, try to look for players in their prime when we bring them in and sometimes you just can't do that. Mike was still a productive player when we got him.

"This is all speculation, but his advanced age, despite the great shape he keeps himself in, when he had the internal injury -- basically he had a double hernia, double groin surgery -- maybe it just made the recovery that much more difficult. ... And the role change, maybe it was a double whammy."

Given his salary, it's highly unlikely the Sox can trade him without absorbing a great portion of the money. Teams with interest can wait until he is released, then sign him for the big-league minimum. Epstein said he already has had conversations with some clubs, but interest was limited. He also said there was a "remote" possibility Cameron would accept a minor league assignment if he clears waivers.

"I could see a club looking for a quick fix and a spare part taking him," said one major league scout whose team is looking for a right-handed hitting outfielder. "I don't think we'd be interested."

Epstein thanked Cameron and praised him for playing through pain last year and working so hard to come back from his surgery. But in the end, he acknowledged, Cameron fell far short of what the team had envisioned.

"If it doesn't work out we have to say it didn't work out," Epstein said. "I'm not going to sugar-coat it, it didn't work out. We think very highly of Mike as a person and player. It didn't work out for the Red Sox despite his best effort."

Gordon Edes covers the Red Sox for ESPNBoston.com. Information from The Associated Press was used in this report.