Monday, June 29, 2009

What if Lowell can't go?

Red Sox third baseman Mike Lowell will receive an injection in his hip this morning as he and the Red Sox try to find a solution for the discomfort he's been feeling. If the injection doesn't do anything for him -- and manager Terry Francona said Sunday he had a similar injection once and it had no effect -- he could wind up on the disabled list.

He's 9 for his last 47 (.191) and has just two extra-base hits since June 7. On top of that, thanks presumably to his hip injury, his range at third base has been among the most limited in baseball. (He ranks 34th among big-league third basemen in Bill James' runs saved statistic, and his Fielding Bible plus-minus is minus-19.)

But with July 31 approaching, as WEEI.com's Rob Bradford has pointed out, third base suddenly has become the biggest question mark on the field. Theo Epstein has to start thinking about worst-case scenarios. No one except possibly the Dodgers can be considered more of a World Series title favorite than the Red Sox at this point, and it would be ludicrous for the Red Sox to miss a chance to win their third title in six years because they hadn't acted to plug a hole at third base.

If they get to a worst-case scenario, if Lowell is feeling so much pain in his hip he either can't play or can't play with any effectiveness, they've got to be prepared. Among the options:

1. Trade for a third baseman
Supply dwindled and demand potentially increased when Adrian Beltre opted to undergo shoulder surgery that will sideline him for at least the next six weeks. Not only would Beltre have been a possible fit -- had the Mariners fallen out of the race in the American League West, that is -- but the Mariners now might think about adding a third baseman themselves.

Now that Mark DeRosa is off the market, dealt to St. Louis over the weekend, it's slim pickings for third basemen. The Red Sox apparently offered Takashi Saito for Texas' Hank Blalock, but Blalock has primarily been a designated hitter this season and hasn't played more than 360 innings (which works out to 40 games) at third base since 2006.

Unless the Orioles show a willingness to deal with a division rival and make Melvin Mora available, there's not much out there.

2. Move Kevin Youkilis to third base full-time and promote a first baseman
Chris Carter and Jeff Bailey both had cups of coffee this spring -- Bailey hit .188 in 69 at-bats, and Carter went hitless with four strikeouts in five at-bats. Carter is hitting .254/.314/.414 at Triple-A Pawtucket this season, and Bailey is hitting .261/.381/.433.

Neither appear to be sensational long-term options -- but that's what might face the Red Sox if Lowell has to shut things down after the July 31 non-waiver trading deadline.

3. Move Youkilis to third base full-time and trade for a first baseman
Yes, that means we get to bring up this guy again.

But he's not the only one out there. Pittsburgh's Adam LaRoche is the last year of his contract, and the Pirates already dealt their center fielder for a haul of prospects. Washington's Adam Dunn fits what the Red Sox want to do with their lineup. Baltimore's Aubrey Huff, too, would be an interesting idea if the Orioles were open to dealing with the Red Sox.

***

The flexibility of Youkilis gives the Red Sox an opportunity to trade for a first baseman rather than a third baseman. Unless it's someone like LaRoche, a 29-year-old power hitter for whom the Pirates would have to get something worthwhile to stave off a fan mutiny, the Red Sox shouldn't have to part with any of the crown jewels of their system, either.

It's all about insurance. Lowell easily could come back strong after the injection. He also, however, could feel more and more pain as the year progresses and wind up on the disabled list for much of the second half of the season. The best news for the Red Sox is that they have until July 31 to figure out what they're going to get from him -- and if he's going to miss significant time, they'd risk blowing a golden opportunity at a World Series title by not making a deal to replace his bat in the lineup.

4 comments:

dbhammel said...

Ok, so I know hes only started 22 games at 1B in his career, and probably would be a liability in the field, but could Kotsay play first long term if he had to? I have to think he could hit better than anyone we would call up from AAA.

Brian MacPherson said...

You're right, he could, but what does that do to your outfield depth? Do you then go out and get Ryan Spilborghs?

dbhammel said...

You could, I like Spillborghs, but he might have been underrated to the point where he is now getting overrated, if that makes any sense. Perhaps a call-up like Van Every would work, Bailey could play OF if he had to.

Brian MacPherson said...

Van Every, for what it's worth, just had season-ending knee surgery.