In doing so, Epstein acquired two guys who have baseball in their blood.
LaRoche played in Pittsburgh with brother Andy — who, at one time, was one of the game’s top prospects. Meanwhile, Duncan’s father, Dave, is a former catcher and the current Cardinals pitching coach and his brother, Shelley, is in the Yankees’ minor league system.
Together, they should be able to give Boston some needed depth in the outfield and at first base. But how much can they help the Red Sox?
LaRoche, 29, has played his entire career in the National League, spending three years in Atlanta and three in Pittsburgh. He’s consistently been a solid middle-of-the-order bat, hitting at least 20 home runs in each of the past four seasons. His best year came in 2006, when he set career-highs by blasting 32 home runs, knocking in 90 runs and compiling a .915 OPS. He’s known as a second-half player and rightfully so; his career batting average (.252 pre-break; .296 post-break) and slugging percentage (.447; .544) bear that out.
So while LaRoche is not exactly dominating this year, hitting .247 with 12 home runs, there’s no need for Red Sox fans to worry. Last year, he had a .251 average and 11 home runs at the break before going on to hit .304 with 14 dingers the rest of the way. He should be a quality bat off the bench for Boston — a guy who can spell either Kevin Youkilis or Mike Lowell (with Youk shifting to third) without much, if any, loss in the power department. Just make sure to keep him on the bench when there’s a southpaw on the mound (career .249 average, .743 OPS against lefties; .275, .847 against righties).
With Duncan, the risk and potential reward are both greater. The man is a 6-foot-5, 230-pound hulk of a human being, but he lacks LaRoche’s pedigree. He has only 55 career home runs, though he’s shown he can hit them in bunches, totaling 43 of his round-trippers in 655 at-bats between 2006 and 2007.
Since then, however, Duncan has fallen off considerably. He hit .248 with six long balls in 76 games last year and has followed it up with an even more unimpressive .227 batting average and five home runs in 87 games this season.
But fear not: The upside is there. Duncan is still only 28, and he knows how to take a walk — his career on-base percentage is a respectable .348 despite a lousy .257 batting average. As long as he continues to take pitches, the power very well could return — particularly if he gets some help from the short fences at Fenway.
And with the versatility to play a corner outfield spot or first base, Duncan is a perfectly worthwhile pickup for the Red Sox, especially considering that they only had to give up Julio Lugo (and eat his contract, which they were going to do anyway if he was released). And like LaRoche, he’s a guy that clearly benefits from being platooned (.206 average, .616 OPS against lefties; .270, .851 against righties).
Will either spark the Red Sox into bursting out of their offensive funk? Probably not. These aren’t guys that will single-handedly carry the team. But managed well (i.e. only hitting against righties), they can provide an offensive threat off the bench that is well above average.
They may not be sexy, but these players represent solid additions to the team — ones that provide an already well-rounded club with even more depth and insurance. Maybe the Red Sox could still use another left-handed reliever, but overall, Boston doesn’t have a lot of work left to do as the trade deadline approaches.