Change of Scenery Could Be All Duncan Needs to Shine


Jul 31, 2009

Here's one of the great perks of following a big-market baseball team that often goes unnoticed: If you're really, really spoiled, you get to see a legitimate big-league star playing for your Triple-A team at age 28.

That would be Chris Duncan, the former Cardinals outfielder that the Red Sox reeled in last week by trading Julio Lugo to St. Louis.

It was a win-win trade for two teams that had given up on former stars. The Red Sox had spent big money on Lugo three offseasons ago, but it had since become clear that he wasn't fitting in in Boston. The Cardinals had high hopes for Duncan, who hit 43 home runs from 2006 to '07, but he had flamed out in the two years since.

For Lugo, a change of scenery was just what the doctor ordered. We've yet to see whether the same can be said for Duncan.

Duncan was considered a bust in St. Louis. Tony La Russa had given up on him — he had hit .227 in 87 games with the Cardinals in 2009, and the team decided to part ways with the once-promising outfielder. Turning their backs on a member of the Cardinal family (literally — Duncan is the son of Cards pitching coach Dave Duncan), they traded him away.

In baseball, it's often the case that one club's trash is another's treasure. Lugo, who homered and tripled in his St. Louis debut last week, is living proof of that. So why can't Duncan be a treasure as well?

When Duncan first arrived on the scene for the Cardinals, he was a phenom. He was the next big thing in St. Louis. In 2006, Duncan didn't reach the majors until late May, and he still managed 22 home runs in 280 at-bats. His slugging percentage of .589 put him right up there with Matt Holliday and Carlos Beltran among the National League's best.

That October, Duncan put his stamp on the Cardinals' World Series run. In Game 5 of the NLCS, he hit a towering home run off the Mets' Pedro Feliciano to seal the Cards' win and their 3-2 series lead. The whole of the baseball world knew about Chris Duncan.

And now it's forgotten him again.

If the Red Sox are lucky, they've found another potential star who needed nothing more than a change of scenery. Duncan, with a career OPS of .805 to his name, has a chance to make a real impact for the Red Sox. But as of yet, we don't know how or when.

Right now, he's in Pawtucket. The PawSox now have a relatively star-studded outfield of Duncan, Brian Anderson and Chris Carter — but how long will that last?

Duncan is talented enough that he deserves a shot at earning a major league job. When you're talking about a guy with multiple 20-home run seasons to his name, you're generally not talking about a career minor leaguer.

Did the Red Sox really trade Julio Lugo for a minor league outfielder? It's not likely. What makes more sense is that the Sox' front office has bigger plans for Duncan down the road.

A lot has been said about the Red Sox' need for a fourth outfielder. Mark Kotsay is gone, and the health of Rocco Baldelli is never reliable. Anderson and Carter will do fine in Triple-A, but they're not quite qualified for the big club. That narrows down the Sox' options considerably.

A trade is always a possibility, but the Red Sox are running out of time with Friday's trade deadline knocking on the door.

The simplest answer might be a promotion from within.

Duncan has proven over the years that he can bring it at the major league level. If nothing else works out, the Red Sox can always give him the chance to do it again.

Duncan didn't work out in St. Louis, but that doesn't mean he's done for good. Sometimes, it's amazing what a change in scenery can do for a man.

Right, Julio?

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