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Duncan’s yo-yo agent

The agent of former Cardinals outfielder Chris Duncan is making some interesting claims.

Chris Duncan (Getty Images/Rob Tringali)Barry Meister, agent of former St. Louis Cardinal and free agent Chris Duncan, is out and about before the Holidays; trying to do what good agents do, stir up interest in his clients.

Meister has an especially challenging job with Duncan, given the outfielder’s unprecedented 2008 surgery to remove a cervical disc in his neck and implant a metal replacement, followed by the slugger’s struggles with the bat in 2009.

In a Sunday article on the new St. Louis Globe-Democrat’s website, Meister gets loose with the facts in his apparent enthusiasm over his charge’s future.

The agent says he is talking with “about four” unnamed clubs “who are really serious” about signing Duncan. OK, that certainly could be, but if so, what are they waiting for?

It seems unlikely that any of them would offer more than a low-risk, make-good minor league deal with a spring camp invite. It’s not like the terms across teams should be significantly different, so if Duncan had a firm offer, why wouldn’t he just take it before the music stops?

An American League destination would make most sense, allowing an opportunity for Duncan to play his best position – hitter. As such, it would be surprising if many of the four, if any, are NL clubs.

What organization from either league would give Duncan a major league deal at this point without seeing him play and knowing his neck is really ok? If he was confident he was healthy, he could have chosen to head to winter ball and prove his mojo is back.

It sounds a bit like the kind of tale Mark Mulder‘s agent has been weaving for at least the last year and a half, trying to stir up interest where there apparently isn’t much of any. Buyers beware.

Meister seems to have a unique perception of time, too. The agent says doctors told him Duncan would require 9-12 months to fully recover his strength and stamina following his November 2008 surgery.

I have to stop right there. Somehow in the interim, the date of Duncan’s procedure shifted to November from its actual date in August – early August – August 4, 2008 to be precise. At that time of the surgery, Duncan’s recovery was widely reported to be 3-4 months and as such, he would report to Spring Training 2009 almost seven months in the future with no apparent restrictions.

Let’s give Meister the benefit of the doubt since Duncan’s surgery was so unique and accept the contention that the complete recovery really was 9-12 months. If that was the case, how could Duncan have been fully ready to go when he played in 28 of 31 spring games and his 86 at-bats was just one off the team’s Florida high?

Based on the real August 2008 date of the procedure, the return of Duncan’s full strength would have occurred somewhere between the start of May and the beginning of August 2009. After a good March and April, how did he do during the time period following?

The answer, of course, is not well at all. In the midst of a long slump, the left-handed hitter was dealt to Boston on July 22 for Julio Lugo. From May 1 until the trade, Duncan had been 38-for-191, .199, with three home runs for the Cardinals. He was then released by the Red Sox on August 20 after batting .185 with Triple-A Pawtucket.

Maybe Chris pushed himself too hard too fast, he faded after a good start, and his poor stats were the result. If so, one can perhaps understand why his father and Cardinals pitching coach Dave Duncan was so upset this past summer – though it would be unclear where to properly place any blame.

No matter what, I have nothing but the best wishes for Chris Duncan and his baseball future, wherever it takes him in 2010 and beyond. Here is hoping he doesn’t depend on his agent to give him his spring training reporting date, though.

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Brian Walton

Brian Walton runs The Cardinal Nation and The Cardinal Nation Blog, covering the St. Louis Cardinals and minor league system.
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