Upon first hearing about the two trades the Red Sox made today, the first gut reaction was: "What the heck did they do that for?" But after reflecting a bit, the two trades don't look too bad in second thoughts. First of all, any trade that frees Julio Lugo from his Red Sox experience is a good thing for him and for the team. Secondly, while LaRoche isn't the best player in the world, he's had some pretty above average seasons until recently. Let's explore this a little bit further.
The first reaction to the LaRoche trade was negativity about moving Youkilis off of first base to third. The Fan has commented several times in the FanDome and on Josh Borenstein's blog that Youkilis is one of the best first basemen in baseball and it's stupid to move him. But the Fan isn't always right. A review of the statistics show that this year's batting splits between first and third are a statistical anomaly. Over his career, Youkilis has better offensive numbers when playing third than when playing first. Though his career at bats at first far outweigh what he's hit at third. Plus, according to the defensive stats, Youkilis is an even better third baseman than he is a first baseman. So, on those occasions when LaRoche plays first and Youkilis moves to third, the Fan has been incorrect and the Red Sox don't lose anything as LaRoche is pretty good around first too.
The second reaction was the opinion that LaRoche wasn't a very good hitter. He's certainly down this year with a showing of .247/.329/.441, but if his career is any indication, he's more like a .275/.350/.485 kind of guy, which is a heck of a lot better than Jeff Francoeur. He had his best year in 2006 for Bobby Cox and was traded the following year to Pittsburgh. Perhaps three years in a losing situation with a surrounding lineup that doesn't leave much protection has taken its toll. At least with the Red Sox, he'll be in an upbeat environment with solid major league hitters around him. Don't be surprised if he does well. The only sad part is seeing him split up from his brother.
Thank goodness for Julio Lugo's sake. Not since Renteria has a shortstop felt such hatred from Red Sox Nation and seemingly crumbled as a player because of it. In a recent interview, he was very up front and said he tried his best and it just didn't work out. At least now, he is free to rediscover his career and the Red Sox are free from the burden. And as much as you all know how much the Fan thinks of Tony LaRussa, he and his staff seem to find a way to rebuild castoffs and fix them somehow. The Cardinals had a real mess at shortstop with Khalil Greene out with emotional problems and Tyler Greene not showing much at the plate. Lugo at least will hit over there in St. Louis and perhaps will regain something of himself again.
It was clear that the Cardinals' executives had felt the end had come for Chris Duncan. Duncan showed huge holes in his swing and was struggling mightily at the plate. He seems pretty much the same as his brother who plays in the Yankee organization. Both are big guys that can get tied up and lack discipline at times. It's hard to see him having any impact with the Red Sox in the future. It appears that this was a case of both teams unloading parts that weren't working for them.
The bottom line for the Red Sox is that they added a potentially above league average bat, subtracted a negative and aren't hurt when Youkilis has to play the occasional third base. Since it appears that the AL East has three teams that are dead even personnel-wise, a slight positive and a good subtraction can't hurt and might even help.