Superior depth and versatility have allowed the Boston Red Sox to camouflage a number of blemishes in the early going this season, including the near-death experience of David Ortiz and the train wreck that has been Daisuke Matsuzaka.
And the ongoing saga of Julio Lugo.
The shortstop problem itself has certainly not been hidden; just the opposite actually. Until Nick Green went into the phone booth and emerged a serviceable Major League middle infielder, it was the most glaring hole on the roster.
But with Green’s emergence comes a new and entirely different problem—what the heck to do with Julio Lugo.
Lugo has become a $9 million-per-year bubble gum chewer. He’s spent more time sitting down over the last two weeks than a CPA working through tax season. If he were to end up on the DL at this point, the most likely cause would be forearm soreness from excessive leaning on the railing atop the dugout steps.
Green’s breakout has at least bandaged the wound in the lineup—I mean, the guy’s hitting almost .300 and has turned into a more than adequate defensive infielder. But it hasn’t solved the problem of roster math, an equation that thus far has left the Red Sox with a useless player eating up one of 25 very valuable positions.
Consider the following—between June 14 and 24, Lugo made zero appearances. None. Not even as a pinch runner. You’re telling me that spot on the roster couldn’t have been better utilized, perhaps with an extra reliever or pinch-hitter?
Lugo’s playing time—and I use that term loosely—has almost completely disappeared. Even while dealing with the pinch-hit happy National League and the world of double switches, Lugo managed only single at-bats in two games against the Nationals and a start Sunday in the finale at Atlanta.
He went 0-for-4.
It’s clear Terry Francona has lost all confidence in Lugo. And it’s hard to blame him. I spent the better part of the last three years trying to convince myself to like Lugo, even talking myself into thinking the team was better with him as the starter this year.
But it has become impossible to defend him. He’s hitting for a relatively healthy average—still .292 after Sunday’s oh-fer—but has rarely managed more than singles (he has six extra-base hits all season). Gone is the famed doubles power that made him so appealing to Theo as a free agent a few years back.
And his range has become laughable. His entrance into the game at Washington on Thursday night was followed promptly by a routine grounder to the hole at short that glided under his glove as he went into a dive. That he needed to dive at all is frightening; that he didn’t even knock the ball down is downright chilling.
Ask Brad Penny, whose ERA is a few runs higher because of Lugo’s lethargic fielding, how confident he is having him back there.
And that’s the problem—Lugo was advertised as a rangy fielder with plus speed and a bat with enough pop to play pepper with the Green Monster. He’s turned out to be a singles hitter who can’t shag routine grounders.
But what do you do with him?
Trading him would seem nearly impossible at this point, unless your only hope in return is an equally overpaid, equally floundering veteran. But how long can this go on?
The only remaining option is to release him, which would be the ultimate and public indication that the Red Sox blew this one. Lugo would still be owed the rest of his money, and another team could sign him for the rest of the year at the veteran minimum.
It’s a sad state of affairs. And a month ago I would have argued that releasing him without getting something in return would be a waste. But given the fact that he’s been stapled to the bench and the team is heading into the dog days of summer, where an extra pitcher or utility man on the roster can make a significant difference, it might be time to part ways.
Because the truth of the matter is the Red Sox have reached the point with Lugo where he’s worth more to them on the streets than he is in the clubhouse.
(This article is also available at http://www.examiner.com/x-8671-New-England-Pro-Sports-Examiner, where Keith Testa is the New England Pro Sports Examiner for Examiner.com)