At The Ballyard ... with Steve Weissman

Wednesday, December 14, 2005

I ♥ Huckaby

The word today is that free agent catcher Ken Huckaby has signed a minor league contract with the Red Sox and has been invited to spring training. The 35-year-old backup receiver was originally drafted by the Dodgers in 1991 and has played in only 153 major league games since, compiling a career batting average of just .223 and amassing but three home runs (all in 2002 as a Blue Jay) and 30 RBIs. Why, then, was he given a Boston uniform? Insurance, pure and simple.

With Doug Mirabelli now a Padre, the logical candidate to be Jason Varitek’s stand-in is Kelly Shoppach, who has performed well at AAA Pawtucket and unquestionably is Mirabelli’s heir apparent. But two open questions make it necessary for the Sox to secure an alternative. First, will Shoppach be able to handle Tim Wakefield’s knuckleball on a regular basis? And second, will he be included in a trade (presumably involving either Manny Ramirez or David Wells) yet to come?

Huckaby has hung around for so long because of his prowess behind the plate, and the presumption therefore is that he will adjust quickly to catching Wakfield’s signature pitch. (A second presumption is that the Red Sox will stick to their plan of allowing Wakefield his own personal catcher, which I see no reason to abandon.) So if Shoppach either has trouble with the knuckleball or isn’t around to catch it, Wake’s games literally would fall into Huckaby’s capable hands. And I’m all right with that – there’s enough hitting on this club to accommodate a defensive specialist, especially if he’s only in the lineup once every five days. Put it this way: if Huckaby earns the role and the Sox don’t win, it won’t be because he’s on the squad.

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