Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Lowell leaves Red Sox thin up the middle's Sean McAdam reported this week that Mike Lowell likely will open the season with the Red Sox and likely will not be traded during spring training. It makes sense: With so many free agents signing for bargain-basement prices, there's no need for a team to part with prospects for a question mark like Lowell. If Russell Branyan had to settle for a $2 million deal, why would another team assume anything but a fraction of the money owed Lowell?

Should Lowell stick around, the Red Sox bench would seem to be set in stone before exhibition games even begin. Jason Varitek will be the backup catcher. Lowell will back up the two infield corners. Jeremy Hermida will back up the two outfield corners. Bill Hall will back up everywhere else.

But that leaves the Red Sox awfully thin in the middle infield. Hall was acquired as a jack-of-all-trades utility guy. Here's the problem: He last played shortstop in the major leagues four years ago, and he last saw even semi-regular playing time at second base five years ago. He's spent the last three seasons almost exclusively as a third baseman and as an outfielder.

This leaves Hall as an adequate in-game replacement for Dustin Pedroia or Marco Scutaro in the event of a fluke injury like a foul ball off the shin. At the other end of the spectrum, should either Pedroia or Scutaro suffer any sort of long-term injury, Tug Hulett or Jed Lowrie could be called up from Triple-A Pawtucket and jump into the starting lineup.

It's in the middle that things start to get hazy. What happens if Pedroia sprains an ankle and is sidelined for four games? What happens if Scutaro gets the flu and is laid up for a week?

Should either middle infielder suffer an injury that's not quite severe enough to land him on the 15-day disabled list -- and the Red Sox aren't going to deactivate Pedroia for 15 days if he's expected to be back in 10 -- Hall would have to play second base or shortstop every day for a week. He hasn't done that since 2006.

For a team banking its fortune on being able to catch the ball, being so thin at two key defensive positions seems unnecessarily precarious.

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