The Julio Lugo Experiment Comes to a Merciful Ending

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The Julio Lugo Experiment Comes to a Merciful Ending
(Photo by J. Meric/Getty Images)

It was bad for Julio Lugo right from the start.

Lugo called Red Sox management during the winter they signed him, saying he had a sickness that resulted in the loss of 15 or 20 pounds. When he showed up for Spring Training, he lacked both strength and quickness. He started slowly and didn't recover, never again becoming the player he was with Tampa.

Ultimately, Lugo never lived up to the four-year, $36 million contract he signed before the 2007 season. So the Red Sox did what had seemed inevitable for so long and released the disappointing shortstop.

“It’s a sunk cost. I’m sorry it didn’t work out better for Julio, but keeping him on the team wasn’t going to change that,” said GM Theo Epstein.

The Red Sox have been trying to deal the underperforming Lugo since last offseason, but the combination of his lackluster offense, poor defense, and large salary nixed any chance of a deal and the Sox have found no takers.

Though the Red Sox won the World Series with Lugo as the everyday shortstop in 2007, the Sox were just 11-16 when he started at short this season, compared to 42-15 when Nick Green is in the lineup.

According to the Providence Journal, Lugo has gained a reputation around the league as a player who does not work as hard as the players around him. That reputation will make it very difficult for the Red Sox to trade him, especially given the remaining $3.5 million of his $9 million salary for 2009, $9 million for 2010, and a $9 million vesting option in 2011.

His poor work ethic was painfully obvious.

For their 2 1/2 year, $36 million investment, the Red Sox got 10 HR, 103 RBI, and 42 errors from their shortstop. From the get-go, Lugo was a liability at the plate and in the field.

During his time in Boston, Lugo's defensive skills steadily eroded, and he'd made seven errors in 97 chances this season.

Theo Epstein, who signed Lugo, referred to the shortstop's abbreviated tenure as "A lesson learned, for sure.’’

“Sometimes the best organizations make mistakes,” said Epstein. “It was a free-agent signing that didn’t work out. We ended up paying for past performance, not current performance. It was a mistake, and as the decision maker, that’s on me. We’ll move on. We’re a better organization having gone through it and we’ll make better decisions going forward.”

It was always hard to understand Epstein's "man crush" on Lugo. What compelled Epstein to bid against only himself, and offer a pretty average player a four-year, $36 million contract?

After all, Lugo batted a mere .219 with the Dodgers before Epstein made his bid. And he had never scored more than 83 runs, hit more than 15 homers, driven in more than 75 runs, or even batted .300 before joining the Red Sox.

Yet Epstein saw him as the solution to the problem that shortstop had become in Boston.

But Lugo followed up his dismal tenure in LA by batting just .237 in is first year with the Red Sox. And though he raised his average to .268 last season, he was the worst hitter in baseball with runners in scoring position, hitting just .139.

Epstein says his goal is to build the organization from within so it doesn’t have to rely on the free-agent market. Aside from Jed Lowrie, he says organizational players, such as Argenis Diaz and Yamaico Navarro, along with soon-to-be-signed Jose Iglesias and Jose Vinicio, are the likely shortstops of the future.

“You dabble in free agency, sometimes these things happen,’’ Epstein said. “That’s kind of the nature of the beast. We’re trying to grow the organization to a point where we don’t have to go out and get a free agent. We’re probably closer to that point now than we were two or three offseasons ago.’’

We can only hope he's right.

Copyright © 2009 Sean M. Kennedy. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed without the author’s consent.

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