The Sox Try to ReHash ’09, Tug Hulett Who?

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ReHashing 2009 with Kelvim Escobar and Justin Duchscherer

In an attempt to rehash the 2009 off-season, the Sox have expressed interest in the dual cautionary tales, Justin Duchscherer and Kelvim Escobar.

But the potential moves themselves are somewhat interesting in their projected roles with the team. As both would be expected to start, they would take the spot as the fifth starter much in the mold that John Smoltz and Brad Penny took on last year.

Much like the new Foo Fighter’s song, “Wheels”, Justin Duchscherer is completely, utterly average. Actually, his stuff is the only mundane thing about him, as his performance record is quite good.   Though his fastball logs in around the mid-80s on the radar gun, his exceptional command (career 2.30 BB/9) upgrades his entire repertoire. In the grand scheme of the Boston Red Sox’ plans, he could be an excellent asset, so long as he can stay on the field.

After moving to the starting rotation for 2008, where he posted a 2.54 ERA, 3.69 FIP, and 3.0 WAR, Duke finally succumbed to his growing litany of injuries, as hip and biceps issues ended his season, precluding elbow surgery that would keep him out of 2009.

If the Penny and Smoltz contracts are any indication, then the Sox should be able to take another $5 million-or-less flier on Duchscherer, which could pay some substantial dividends. Though there is the likelihood of injury involved given his brittle history, Duchscherer would be a welcome addition as the number five starter on the Sox, backed up by the ever-ready Tim Wakefield and his fluttering knuckleball.

Of the two, Kelvim Escobar provides the more risk – in both his ceiling and floor. In particular, his 2004-2007 heyday lend credence to the pitcher’s potential, as he posted a composite 3.59 ERA with 561 Ks in 654 innings, including a 3.39 FIP, 5.2 WAR and 7.36 K/9 in 2007.

At this point, however, those days are more than a fleeting memory, as two attempted comebacks have yielding 5 total innings pitched in the last two seasons. Now 33, a healthy Escobar seems to be little more than a pipe dream, as right shoulder issues have caused him to miss both 2008 and 2009,  while arm troubles have given him trouble every season since 2005.

Unless the Sox can sign him in the $1 million range, it makes little sense investing in Escobar. His injuries present such a significant risk that it’s hard to see him contributing much to the team at all. Though, in the event that he were to maintain health, he may yet have value. Amazingly, despite all the surgeries and DL stints, Escobar averaged 93.7 MPH on his fastball in ’09, which, aside from 2007, was his highest average fastball velocity recorded in his career. Though just a glimmer of hope, with the Boston budget, the team could do worse than to buy a $1 million, incentive-laden lottery ticket. With Boston’s economics, a $1 million investment wouldn’t pose a large risk, as opposed to a team like the Rays, where the additional capital could mean the difference between signing a free agent and not.

With the options available on the free agent market, it would be somewhat of a curious move to see the Sox sign either Escobar or Duchscherer with the intent of plugging them in as a starter. Escobar can’t be depended upon, and, though Duchscherer seems ready to come back after his surgery, his other ailments have been just as disruptive to his career as his balky elbow, rendering him a significant question mark as well.

With rotation slots 1-4 taken up with Beckett, Lester, Buchholz, and Daisuke, the team would do itself a service to pick up a starter with a better injury history. Call me crazy, but Escobar and Duchscherer make even Rich Harden look about as indestructible as Cal Ripken.

Unless a very favorable contract presents itself, the team would be wise to sign a more established starter than either of the aforementioned options. Though they are an intriguing last-resort type deal, a team with the Red Sox’ resources does not need to walk the tightrope with Duchscherer and Escobar. That’s just asking for trouble.

Sox Acquire Tug Hulett

Yesterday, the Sox exchanged cash considerations or a PTBNL with the Royals for utility infielder Tug Hulett. With a name right out of 19th century America, Tug could be an instant fan favorite should he break camp with the big club. As Jed Lowrie’s Opening Day roster spot has been called into question, Hulett could turn himself into quite the player for the Red Sox.

Though he has been unable to produce in limited appearances in the majors (75 PAs, .194/.270/.254 between 2008 and 2009), he has an excellent minor league track record, with a .284/.393/.417 line in 2333 at-bats, including a bit of pop as well with 36 home runs in the last three seasons.

Perhaps the most encouraging part of Hulett’s minor league record is his ability to work counts and take walks. With about a 4:5 minor league walk to strikeout ratio, Hulett brings a great approach to the plate, though he has had trouble translating those skills to the majors, striking out 23 times in 67 at-bats. Still, with the limited sample size involved, the verdict is out as to Hulett’s ability at the major league level.

Plugged into a utility role in the major leagues, Tugs could develop into a pleasant surprise for the big club. Entering his age-27 season, he still has the chance to turn his AAA successes into major league ones, so there’s reason to be optimistic about the Sox acquisition.

On that note, to all FireBranders out there, have a happy Thanksgiving and keep your eyes on the Hot Stove.

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