Saturday, March 14, 2009

Losing Lugo would be a big blow

If Julio Lugo does indeed have a tear in the meniscus of his knee, it would be a big blow to the Red Sox -- no matter how much you want Jed Lowrie to play shortstop for the Red Sox.

Yes, Lowrie probably deserves the job all to himself. The way he hit last season (.339 on-base percentage despite a wrist injury, 40 points higher than Lugo's 2007 OBP) and the way he fielded (a plus-8 in 49 games at shortstop, good for 10th in the American League) makes that pretty obvious. But with the way the Red Sox roster shapes up right now, Terry Francona's team is best served with Lugo as the starting shortstop and Lowrie as the utility guy who ends up playing pretty much everywhere.

If Lugo is healthy, he'd play about 110 games at shortstop and Lowrie the other 50 or so. In the meantime, Lowrie likely would play 30 or 40 games at third base and a handful at second base, and he'd still get better than 400 or 450 at-bats. And if anyone gets hurt, Lowrie will be right there and ready to plug the hole.

If Lugo has to spend significant time on the disabled list, on the other hand, the Red Sox infield consists of Kevin Youkilis at first base, Dustin Pedroia at second, Mike Lowell at third and Lowrie at shortstop. That's it. If anyone ever needs a day off -- and Lowell in particular is going to need days off -- the next best option on the left side of the infield suddenly would be Nick Green.

Yes, Green has hit well this spring; through Friday night's game against the Yankees, he was hitting .423 and getting on base at a .516 clip through 26 at-bats. He even has two home runs and five RBI. But in big-league games that actually count, Green has a .240 career batting average and a .309 career on-base percentage. In 318 at-bats with Tampa Bay in 2005, he hit .239 and OBP'ed .329.

The other option is Angel Chavez, who has five hits in 19 big-league at-bats -- all with San Francisco in 2005. In more than 450 at-bats with Triple-A Las Vegas last season, he hit .292 with 10 home runs. He hit a grand slam against Northeastern but otherwise has had an unremarkable spring; he was 2-for-8 in two games with Panama in the World Baseball Classic.

Neither would be a terrible sixth infielder. But if anyone else gets hurt, either Chavez or Green suddenly would be an everyday infielder on a team with World Series aspirations. That's not good news.

The other option, if Lowrie stays healthy, is to use Youkilis to give Lowell a breather. That would allow Terry Francona to play Jeff Bailey or Chris Carter at first base without weakening his lineup all that much.

As versatile as Youkilis is, though, the Red Sox have to be reluctant about shuttling him back and forth across the diamond. If Lowell gets hurt, sure, Youkilis can play third base full-time without much of a problem. But to ask Youkilis to play first base on Tuesday, third base on Wednesday and Thursday and then first base again on Friday might be asking a little too much, even out of a guy as versatile as Youkilis.

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