off the bench and a potential fill-in if Mike Lowell gets hurt
Aaron M. Sprecher/Icon SMI
The Red Sox are stocking up for the playoff push while the Pirates are dumping established big leaguers at the trade deadline. So what else is new?
Well, maybe this: The two teams have turned to each other to fulfill their usual roles. The Pirates sent first baseman Adam LaRoche to the Red Sox on Wednesday for minor leaguers Hunter Strickland and Argenis Diaz. While not a deal that will radically remake the fortunes of either team, it does provide immediate benefits for Boston while giving the Pirates two more potential big leaguers in their never-ending youth movement.
Though LaRoche is batting just .247 with 12 home runs and 40 RBIs, the Red Sox may be getting him at the perfect time. Over the last three seasons, the 29-year-old LaRoche is a .314/.374/.578 hitter with 41 home runs in 182 games after the All-Star break, compared to .247/.326/.449 with 37 home runs in 255 games before the break.
The Red Sox offense has certainly been productive -- ranking fourth in the AL in runs, home runs, on-base percentage and slugging percentage -- although not as relentless as in recent years, having dealt with injuries (Mike Lowell) and slumps (David Ortiz, Jason Varitek) for much of the season. They've been especially cold in July -- batting just .223 this month with a .318 on-base percentage -- and have fallen out of first place behind the Yankees in the AL East.
If nothing else, LaRoche gives them at minimum a solid left-handed bat off the bench, but his biggest value will be to provide the Red Sox another option in case Lowell's hip continues to be a problem. If Lowell is forced to the disabled list again, Kevin Youkilis can slide from first to third and LaRoche can take over at first. Lowell returned from the disabled list last Friday after missing almost three weeks of action and has gone 6-for-14 in four games since. If, as expected, he's not going to be able to play every day the rest of the season, manager Terry Francona will be able to pencil LaRoche's name into the lineup instead of Mark Kotsay, who has also had injury problems while playing in just 26 games all season (batting .271 with just one home run).
LaRoche will be a free agent after the season, allowing the Red Sox a first-hand look at whether they should try and re-sign him (which could depend, again, on Lowell's health) or letting him walk and taking a draft pick as compensation.
The Pirates were in a similar position, but likely felt they could get two prospects now who are already advancing through the minor leagues rather than settle for one draft pick next June (since LaRoche would probably rate as a Type B free agent, which means the team that loses him only gets one additional draft pick, rather than two for a Type A free agent). Neither Strickland nor Diaz are ready for the major leagues, nor will they be anytime soon, but at least they already have professional experience. Strickland, 20, was an 18th-round pick in 2007 from his Georgia high school. He has good size and a low-90s fastball. He ranked fifth in the organization with a 3.18 ERA in 2008 while splitting his time between the starting rotation and the bullpen at low Class A ball. He's 5-4 with a 3.35 ERA this season at high Class A Greenville.
Diaz is a 22-year-old shortstop who has been playing at Double-A Portland. He has struggled at the plate, batting just .253/.309/.376 with no home runs. The Pirates may need a shortstop before too long. Incumbent Jack Wilson rejected the team's offer of a contract extension recently, leading some to believe he could be traded before the deadline even though he is under contract through 2010.