Tuesday, June 23, 2009

The Invisible Man, Soon to be Gone Forever

One member of the Boston Red Sox current roster has been absent from the box scores of all games since June 14, without a whisper of an injury or any other serious issue coming out of the clubhouse. That player has seen no at-bats, no pinch-running, no defensive replacements; a tremendous rarity for an active player during the Terry Francona era.

That player is Julio Lugo. And if the last week and a half has been any indication, his days with the Red Sox appear to be numbered.

Nick Green has firmly entrenched himself as this team's starting shortstop. Green, a career utility man who did not appear in the Majors at all last season, has gained more and more comfort with both Boston and a position that's not his natural one. His walk-off "home run" (if you want to call it that) against Atlanta last weekend provided the high point of his season thus far. At .293/.345/.459 going into Tuesday's action, only Derek Jeter and Jason Bartlett are better offensive shortstops in the American League right now.

Whether Green stays as the primary shortstop depends on how Jed Lowrie performs upon returning from his lengthy DL stint. Lowrie should have had surgery on his wrist last winter, but didn't get it until starting the season 1-for-18. Now on a rehab assignment in Pawtucket, Lowrie should be ready for the Majors very soon.

That makes Lugo, whose defense has completely eroded and offense has shown only light flashes in limited '09 play, the odd man out. The letters "DFA" appear to be in his future. Some other scenarios would include sending Green, who's playing on a minor league contract this year, to Pawtucket and going with Lowrie and Lugo (this is highly unlikely since Green is doing so well and Lowrie might not play everyday initially), or optioning Lowrie to Pawtucket once his rehab assignment ends and continuing with the current arragement. This can't be ruled out, but it's fairly obvious that Lowrie (or anyone for that matter) has more value to the big club than Lugo does now, and when Lowrie is healthy he belongs in the Majors.

When talking about Lowrie on Tuesday, Francona said, "He's got to play. There's no getting around it." At the very least, having Lowrie and Green gives the Red Sox more flexibility since they can both play three infield positions while Lugo is limited to shortstop, which he sucks at anyway.

It's no secret the Red Sox have been shopping Lugo for a long, long time now. Anybody that wants a mediocre shortstop with roughly $14 million guaranteed remaining on his salary could have him. Unfortunately for Theo Epstein, no one's biting, and no one will bite. Even if the Red Sox were to pay the rest of his salary, no team in baseball is willing to give up anything in return.

I see no other reason why the Red Sox would knowingly keep Lugo off the field for this long. Francona is all about keeping guys fresh and making everyone happy in regards to playing time. It's been his MO since showing up in Boston. They obviously don't care about getting this guy on the field because they don't expect him to be on the team much longer.

They will designate Lugo for assignment, giving the club 10 days to figure what to do next. If Lugo isn't traded after those 10 days, the Red Sox will release him, and will be on the hook for that $14 million or so still owed.

It will look bad for Epstein and the Red Sox, who were so high on Lugo for years and threw $36 million at him when there were few other suitors in 2006. Lugo's detractors are quick to forget how much he improved both offensively and defensively down the stretch in 2007 and that he was a key contributor to their World Series run, going 5-for-13 in the Fall Classic.

But that's all in the past. Lugo is a sunk cost, and the Red Sox have resigned themselves to that fact. Lugo's contract is one of the many reasons why Epstein has soured on big deals for non-superstars and why you'll likely never see another one for Boston during his tenure. Case in point: the Red Sox were forced to give up their '07 first round pick to the Dodgers upon signing Lugo. They could not have forseen this happening, but if they had that pick, they likely would have selected Rick Porcello, who should have gone in the top five but fell due to signability concerns. As a Red Sox fan, who would you rather have on the club right now: Porcello or Lugo?

Revisionist history doesn't really matter now. Lugo is a goner, and the Red Sox will be better for it.

1 comment:

Zack Adams said...

I thought he should have been released immediately after they signed him. I really do hope that he is not in a Red Sox uniform after the All Star Break. Also, if Ortiz doesn't seriously improve by the end of this season (I know he is hitting now, but it's really only been a couple of weeks), then I think they should cut him loose, too. For God's sake, his only job is to hit a baseball, and he can't do it.

Nice piece o' writing, Mr. O'Donnell.