The Minnesota Twins Must Stay Away from Julio Lugo
Word broke early Friday morning that the Red Sox were no longer "desperate" to find a new team for Julio Lugo; instead, they set him on the curb with a sign around his neck that read "Free to a good home."
With Jed Lowrie coming back from his wrist injury, the Sawx simply didn't have space for the veteran shortstop, who had platooned with Nick Green in Lowrie's absence. Lugo wasn't exactly a cheap filler either; he's owed $9 million for this season as well as next and has a vesting option for 2011.
Lugo may not have been tearing it up during his 100-plus at-bat stint this season, but his line of .284/.352/.367 is far from the worst we've seen a major leaguer post this season. In fact, his batting average of .260 is exactly average.
Enter the Minnesota Twins.
Fans are clamoring for the Twins to make a move to sure up their middle infield, one that might actually work in contrast to running Nick Punto and Alexi Casilla out there hoping one will finally figure it out.
Even a few players are starting to grumble about the lack of action by the front office, though no one has said it in so many words.
Lugo is a veteran playing above his career averages, and he would give the Twins a better option than the offensive black hole that is Punto, and he'd cost nothing more than money. So what's not to love?
What's not to love is his defense; Lugo was once a great defender, literally once—his 2004 season with the (Devil) Rays. In 32 games at shortstop this season, Lugo has nearly cost the Red Sox a full win in the field, his -8.2 ultimate zone rating is epically bad, and by epically bad, I mean the worst in the majors to date at his position.
One thing that has been consistently true of Ron Gardenhire is that he loves defensively minded players, hence, Punto.
Gardy's defense of Punto has long been that "he can pick it."
With starters in the past, that has been relevant. This season, however, not one of the Twins starters qualifies as a groundball pitcher. Glen Perkins, the only one that's close right now, has a ground ball-to-fly ball rate of .96, so it's essentially a toss up.
Nevertheless, Punto's defense is something that Gardy wants in the lineup, even if it means his bat is in there, too.
Thus, Lugo won't replace Punto; he'll take time from Brendan Harris.
Harris finally found a way into the lineup on a daily basis, and while July has been unkind to him, he was a good player for the first half of the season. If he can get back to his June production, the Twins will be much better for it.
The difference between Harris and Punto over the course of the first half of the season is negligible. Both are a tic below average defensively, if by the smallest of margins. Punto is no longer the plus-plus defender he is perceived to be, but manager Ron Gardenhire is convinced that Punto's presence on the field is what is best for the Twins.
Since it seems that, come hell or high water, the Twins will see No. 8 manning either second or shortstop for the duration of his contract, the addition of Lugo means displacing Harris, not Punto.
So, while Lugo represents a substantive upgrade over Punto at the dish, he does not represent one over Harris.
Over the course of the season, Harris and Lugo will provide similar contributions at the plate. Lugo has been better so far this season, but he's seen much less time and isn't likely to continue to post a line above his career average at age 33.
Harris is cheaper and much, much better in the field. That alone will be worth a few offensive runs when all is said and done.
Talks of a Twins move ought to be shelved, for a while at least. Alexi Casilla will get a chance to show what he learned during his latest stint in Triple-A; if he can't hack it, then the Twins will start to serious look over the market.
They almost certainly have targets in mind, but until Casilla flops, they'll mostly provide platitudes like "Calling up Alexi was like making a trade!"
Whether or not the Twins decide to pursue a middle infielder to improve their most-glaring weakness, Julio Lugo is better left where they found him.
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