Carl Crawford: Will Red Sox Pursue Torii Hunter If He's Done for the Season?

Steven Goldman@GoStevenGoldmanMLB Lead BloggerApril 26, 2012

Carl Crawford: Can't escape the injury net?
Carl Crawford: Can't escape the injury net?Jim Rogash/Getty Images

Carl Crawford is off to see Dr. James Andrews on what Red Sox manager Bobby Valentine called “a fact-finding mission” to find out why his left elbow pains him when throwing.

“I haven’t heard any reason that there’s surgery, a surgical procedure being necessary,’’ Valentine said.

We can take Valentine at his word for now, but any time a player goes to see Dr. Andrews, the possibility that he might end up with a season-ending arm-ectomy is raised. That’s a problem, because although Boston’s real issue right now is pitching, with Jacoby Ellsbury healing his subluxed shoulder, outfield depth was already thin. A Ryan Sweeney/Cody Ross platoon has been scrapped in favor of Ross playing every day, while second-line players like Darnell McDonald and Jason Repko have only exacerbated the problem.

The recently-acquired Marlon Byrd should help a bit, but over the last three seasons, he’s been roughly a league-average hitter (.285/.334/.437, which sounds great for a centerfielder until you park-adjust it and also add in so-so defense), and since being hit in the face by a pitch (ironically by Alfredo Aceves in Boston), he has hit only .233/.290/.336.

Although Ryan Sweeney has gotten off to a terrific start (.382/.407/.582), as has Ross (.267/.328/.567), both are likely to cool down. Unless Ellsbury somehow heals as fast as a certain comic book mutant, the Sox are going to need some outfield help, and that is true even if Crawford is not done.

The problem is, extra outfielders are not in great supply in the majors right now. Potential free agents for 2013, the unsigned players who are typically moved at the trading deadline, include Michael Bourn, Melky Cabrera, Andre Ethier, Josh Hamilton, Torii Hunter, Carlos Quentin, Ichiro Suzuki, B.J. Upton, Shane Victorino and Delmon Young.

Most of these are problematic. The Padres and Quentin are going nowhere fast, but the career .252/.346/.490 hitter is currently rehabbing a knee injury and hasn’t played yet this year. Bourn, Cabrera and Hamilton are on contenders, and the last is an MVP candidate and franchise centerpiece on the best team in the game—he’s not going anywhere. The Rays have seemingly been dithering as to dealing the disappointing Upton for years, but should they finally stop Hamlet-ing about him, they likely won’t be so obtuse as to trade him to a division rival.

There are two candidates among imminent free agents that seem more likely to travel at some point are both presently located in California. Andre Ethier , a career .291/.363/.481hitter but also 30, a candidate to be platooned, injury-prone and streaky as hell. While the Dodgers are currently in first place and might surprise and stay in contention, it’s more likely that they’re a Matt Kemp cold snap away from coming back to the pack. The Dodgers have money now and might not want to let a solid player go given the publicity hit to the new ownership, but given Ethier’s shortcomings, it might be wiser to let him move on.

Parenthetically, Ethier and Dustin Pedroia are very good friends, having played together at Arizona State.

A more intriguing choice might be Torii Hunter of the Angels. He’s 36, past his best days, now playing a corner due to the decay of his formerly Gold Glove skills. The Angels have an outfield that is best described as “constipated,” with Vernon Wells, Peter Bourjos, Bobby Abreu and even Mark Trumbo getting turns there, while uber-prospect Mike Trout is presently hitting .419/.483/.649 at Triple-A Salt Lake City.

The Angels are off to a miserable start, one which they may be unable to overcome given how far back they’ve already fallen. It’s early, but 8.5 games is going to be a tough hill to climb with the Rangers playing like the ’27 Yankees, while the AL East is so stacked that the wild card route may not be accessible either. If things don’t change soon, it might be time to pack it in.

Possibly greasing Hunter’s way out of town were comments this week that seemed critical of manager Mike Scioscia:

"You have to dig deep," right fielder Torii Hunter said. "We can't get down in the first two innings and say, 'Here we go again.' We have to fight a little harder. I don't think we believe we're trying that hard. We're just going through the motions. We have to do what we're capable of doing. That's everybody; not just the players."

Asked if the game could have changed with some early execution, Hunter said, "You mean if we bunted in the second? What can we do? All we do is play the game."

Hunter has a limited no-trade clause that includes Boston. On the other hand, he’s a career .335/.374/.519 hitter at Fenway Park, and going there might mean tacking an extra year onto a career that seems to be rapidly winding down.

Of course, all of these scenarios are complicated by one fact that is difficult to evade: The Sox have few prospects to trade, and if they spend them on anything other than pitching, they will have been very foolish indeed.