Epstein on LaRoche, etc.

A couple of nuggets from Theo Epstein's press conference Wednesday, via Boston.com:

    • The Red Sox had "been in a market for a player who can do some damage against righthanded pitching and can help our team's depth in the corner infield" Epstein said. The Sox had been batting .257 against righthanders this season, compared to .271 against lefties.
    "I think we plan to be very active in discussions in talking to just about every club out there and persuing every player that can make us better now and in the future," Epstein said. "Certainly, there are no guarantees. Certainly, we hope to make another move between now and the deadline."

    Epstein has no precise profile in mind for the kind of player he might want to add, although he stuck to wanting to further upgrade the Sox' position player depth and performance against righthanded pitching.

    • Epstein on the offense: "I think we're a good offensive club having a horrific month. When you go through slumps like this, one, it's important to assess any areas where you can improve without overreacting, and two, to put in perspective. We have the potential to be really, really good. But we're not the most prolific offensive club in recent Red Sox history. We certainly have the ability to score enough runs to get where we want to go."

    • When the front office assessed the Red Sox in the AL East race at the break, he considered them even in a three-team race despite leading the division by three games. "You look at the underlying performances of the clubs, there was basically nothing separating them," Epstein said. "We looked at ourselves in a dead-even, three-way race. Five days later, we look it at exactly the same way. We're in a three-way dead heat."

Taking those bullets in reverse order ...
It's been a three-way dead heat for a long time; ever since the Yankees got Alex Rodriguez back and the Rays' record finally started catching up with their run differential. When Epstein talks about "underlying performances," that's mostly what he means: run differential (with appropriate adjustments, of course).

At the All-Star break, the Red Sox had outscored their opponents by 85 runs, the Rays by 76, and the Yankees by 60. Dead heat. Except that doesn't quite tell the whole story. This afternoon, the Red Sox trail the Yankees by one-and-a-half games, but lead the Rays by three-and-a-half games. The run differentials are even closer today than they were a week ago, but the Red Sox's lead over the Rays is significant. How significant, we won't know for a couple of months.

About upgrading the position-player depth, the most obvious need is for a fifth outfielder who can hit. Mark Kotsay's been filling that role, but without the hitting part. He's been kept around mostly because he can play first base, but the presence of LaRoche should make Kotsay almost completely extraneous. If the Sox do add another player soon, Kotsay's probably the odd man out.

As you might guess, the left-hitting LaRoche is pretty good against right-handed pitching, with a .275/.347/.500 career line. That's far from brilliant, particularly for a first baseman. But it's useful. And considering how few deficiencies the Red Sox have, "useful" is about as well as they're going to do.

Update: Well, that didn't take long: according to the Belleville News-Democrat, the Red Sox have traded Julio Lugo to the Cardinals for Chris Duncan. Unless the Sox are sending Duncan to Pawtucket, this has to be bad news for Kotsay, as both he and Duncan are left-handed hitters who play the outfield and first base.
What I can't figure is what Duncan brings to the table that Kotsay doesn't. Due to various ailments, Duncan's line over these last two seasons is just .237/.337/.361, and it's not like he's come around lately; he's just 1 for 31 since late June and hasn't driven in a run in more than a month. Oh, well ... Theo Epstein usually does know what he's doing.