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Giants acquire Peavy from Red Sox, but how much will he really help?

The Boston Red Sox got something for nothing on Saturday when they traded veteran right-hander Jake Peavy to the San Francisco Giants for pitching prospects Edwin Escobar and Heath Hembree. Peavy, who will be a free agent this fall, was 1-9 with a 4.72 ERA (83 ERA+) in 20 starts for Boston this season. But with Matt Cain on the disabled list with elbow inflammation and no timetable for a return, the Giants are hoping that the former Padres ace can recover some of his former glory by moving him to pitching-friendly AT&T Park and the National League.

That switch should benefit Peavy heading into free agency, but whether or not the move will stem his steady decline is unclear. Peavy’s strikeout rate dropped immediately upon his arrival in the American League at the 2009 non-waiver trading deadline (when he was shipped from the Padres to the White Sox) and has decreased further in each of the last two seasons even though strikeouts are trending upward league-wide. Likewise, Peavy’s walk and home run rates have increased in each of the last two years. The result is that the 33-year-old’s current rates of 7.3 K/9, 3.3 BB/9, 2.17 K/BB, and 1.5 HR/9 all represent his worst rate since his first full major league season in 2003, when he was 22. The impact of all of those declining peripherals is that Peavy, who was leading the American League in home runs allowed (20), has the tenth-worst ERA+ among all qualified pitchers this season (83). What’s more, he is one of just three of those ten pitchers to have a higher Fielding Independent Pitching ERA than his actual ERA, joining the Padres’ Eric Stults, who has allowed 20 home runs of his own, and major league home runs-allowed leader Marco Estrada of the Brewers.

Given all of that, the Red Sox did extremely well to get two solid pitching prospects in return for two months of Peavy, who is owed just shy of $5 million for the remainder of the season. Neither Estrada nor Hembree is a blue-chipper, but Estrada was rated the Giants' second-best prospect behind Kyle Crick by Baseball America and SB Nation’s John Sickels coming into the season, and Hembree is a hard-throwing right-handed reliever who has already appeared at the major league level.

A 22-year-old lefty with a low release point, Escobar excelled in A-ball and Double-A prior to hitting a bit of a rough patch in his Triple-A debut this year. He doesn’t have exceptional stuff, but what he has he knows how to use, to the degree that he struck out 10.2 men per nine innings between High-A and Double-A last year and was named the 56th-best prospect in the game entering this season by Baseball America. Since he won’t turn 23 until April and already has 20 Triple-A starts under his belt, Escobar has plenty of time to adjust to his level. He’s not expected to be much more than a mid-rotation starter, but his chances of fulfilling that projection are believed to be very high barring injury. At the very worst, his effectiveness against lefties (who have hit .188/.239/.208 against him this season), suggests Escobar could be a very effective matchup reliever.

Hembree, meanwhile, is a 6-foot-4, 25-year-old righty reliever who throws in the mid-90s with an excellent slider. It’s a fairly typical profile, but a valuable one nonetheless, and with Hembree having reigned in his control problems last year, he now boast a solid 3.54 strikeout-to-walk ratio to go with his 10-plus strikeouts per nine innings. Hembree was outstanding in nine relief appearances for San Francisco as a September call-up last year (7 2/3 IP, 4 H, 0 R, 2 BB, 12 K) and should find himself in the Boston bullpen no later than this September.

The Red Sox were able to land those two pitchers because of Peavy’s name value—he’s a three-time All-Star, a former Cy Young and pitching Triple Crown winner—and likely because Peavy’s first success came under current Giants skipper Bruce Bochy when both were in San Diego (Peavy led the majors with a 2.27 ERA for Bochy’s 2004 Padres). Despite his name and former accolades, it remains unclear how much Peavy will actually improve the Giants this season.

San Francisco has done well to keep pace with the Dodgers since blowing a 9 1/2 game lead in the NL West over the course of three weeks in June, and enters Saturday night’s game with a half-game lead over L.A. despite the triples-heavy drubbing they took from the Dodgers on Friday. A closer look, however, reveals that the Giants’ have been keeping pace by beating the weaker teams in the league, going 9-4 against the Padres, Diamondbacks, Marlins, and Phillies but 2-5 against the Cardinals and A’s over their last six series.

The Dodgers’ recent success has been similarly split, but L.A. gained the upper hand with their 8-1 win over San Francisco and Tim Lincecum Friday night and will aim to take a half-game lead in the division behind Clayton Kershaw on Saturday. As a result, it could be up to Peavy to help the Giants reclaim the lead in Sunday’s nationally televised series finale against Hyun-Jin Ryu. Peavy is entering a more friendly pitching environment at AT&T Park, but he’s also entering one with considerably higher stress than that of the last-place Red Sox. And as discouraging as Peavy’s peripherals have been the last two seasons, his track record in big games has been even more so. In six career playoff starts, including Game 163 of the 2007 season against the Rockies, Peavy has not turned in a single quality start and owns a 9.10 ERA.

Peavy should be an improvement over replacement starter Yusmeiro Petit, who owns a 6.32 ERA in six starts this season, but little more. The Red Sox, meanwhile, could have both pitchers they acquired in this trade on their major league roster by the end of next year. Meanwhile, Boston has now jettisoned two former All-Stars from their roster, the first being catcher A.J. Pierzynski, who just signed on with the Cardinals to attempt to help fill in for the injured Yadier Molina, but hasn’t clearly surrendered the season yet. However, with four straight losses to intra-division opponents heading into Saturday’s action and a 10 1/2 game deficit in their division, the Red Sox may be done after all.