Before I get too far in, I will preface this post by saying these things:
I am not a huge Chris Duncan fan. I think he is a minus on defense (in the outfield – he doesn’t get enough innings at 1B to make that a reason why he’s on the club). I can’t stand watching him flail away at pitches in the dirt, many of which are first pitches after the previous hitter (or two) have walked. I hate that Ryan Ludwick is forced to sit sometimes in order to get Duncan at-bats (I know, Luddy has to have a day off every now and again too). I so appreciate it when he does contribute, the guy can hit the ball hard when he makes contact, solid contact just seems few and far between sometimes.
All that being said, I don’t agree with a lot of Cardinal fans who believe that he remains on the team solely because his father, Dave Duncan, is the pitching coach. I shudder to think that Bill DeWitt or John Mozeliak would allow themselves to be manipulated like that by Daddy Dunc or Tony LaRussa, and say what you will about Tony, but I don’t think he would pull such a stunt.
I think to some extent, it is a matter of hanging on to past glory or trying to rekindle something that isn’t there anymore or was a mirage. See: Jason Isringhausen. Lil’ Dunc had a great half-season in 2006, started to slip a bit last year but still put up very respective numbers (.259/.354/.480) in 2007, and this year his struggles have been well-documented. I just don’t think Tony is ready to cut the cord yet. He may not have to. Mo might do it for him.
Duncan was roundly criticized early in the season, prior to his demotion to AAA Memphis, for not hitting well. It would’ve been more accurate to say not hitting for power well. He was hitting .252 at the time, with a .356 OBP. Not horrible numbers for what I think can be reasonably expected of him. But his slugging percentage was .386. Blech. Not only was he not hitting for much power, he was barely hitting for any power. At that point in the season Duncan only had nine extra-base hits, only four of which were home runs, in 127 at-bats. Not very good.
To make matter worse, when he was optioned to Memphis to “find his power stroke,” he managed to hit worse down there. Hastily (at least in this scribe’s opinion) recalled to the big club when Albert Pujols went down with his calf injury, Duncan continued his statistical descent with the Cardinals. From June 11 to June 21, Duncan hit .158/.220/.158. Putrid. His season OPS bottomed out that game at .659.
Fast forward to today, and Duncan has made an astounding turn-around in his season. Starting with the last game of the series in Boston on June 22 and continuing through yesterday’s win versus the Padres, Duncan is raking at a .315/.413/.481 clip, good for an .894 OPS. I don’t know about you, but I’d be ecstatic if you told me prior to this season that Dunc would hit at an .894 OPS clip. So Duncan is *seemingly* starting to turn things around. Maybe he’s seeing the ball a bit better? Maybe his mental state is improving? Whatever it is, it’s working.
He couldn’t have chosen a better time to heat up. MLB’s non-waiver trade deadline is right around the corner, and the Cards have needs. Primarily, they need bullpen help. What they don’t need right now, is the current glut of outfielders they have between Memphis and the big club.
What I am about to suggest is not entirely new, but given recent developments, I think it’s valid to revisit.
Viva El Birdos last week suggested acquiring Jarrod Washburn from the Seattle Mariners. Washburn is struggling a bit this season, and the Mariners are anxious to rid themselves of his $10MM salary for next season. Presumably, Washburn could be had for a middling prospect, VEB proposed Mike Parisi.
Well, Seattle also happens to have a decent, veteran left-handed relief pitcher on their squad, Arthur Rhodes. Why not kill two birds with one stone here? Why not acquire Washburn to eat up innings (he’s been very durable for a lower end of the rotation guy), and Rhodes to (hopefully) correct some of the bullpen’s woes?
It just so happens that Seattle recently came into a need for a first-baseman. Obviously, they’re not chasing anything this season other than their own tails, so it’s not a pressing need – but with Richie Sexson released, they have a hole. They also have a DH slot available in their lineup. It seems Chris Duncan, still only 27, would be a great fit for the Mariners. So maybe you don’t even give up a Parisi – maybe it’s Duncan and minor considerations beyond that. Duncan and Anthony Reyes (who the Cards pretty clearly seem to have given up on)? Duncan and Cody Haerther? Duncan and Parisi (assuming Parisi alone wouldn’t have been enough to land Washburn)?
There are options – and the Cardinals have plenty to fill Dunc’s current role with the big league squad. Joe Mather comes to mind as one guy to fill the exact same role, OF and 1B. Plus, he’s right-handed, which in my opinion is a plus – I think they’ve got plenty of left-handed hitting outfielders as it is. Nick Stavinoha could reasonably assume the OF/1B slot. Brian Barton can play the fifth outfielder without too much problem.
I’m sure most will think what I’m proposing gives up too much for Rhodes and Washburn. I’m sure many would prefer to hang onto Duncan if he continues to improve at this rate.
John Mozeliak could potentially cross two items off of his mid-season to-do list without giving up a single projected top prospect. That would seem to be a win in my book…