By now, Mike Lowell's 2005 acquisition by the Red Sox has become a sort of local folklore.
Lowell was supposed to be the "dead weight" the Florida Marlins dumped on the Red Sox in November 2005 in order to procure Josh Beckett. Lowell was under contract for $9 million in each of the next two seasons and was coming off a career-worst season.
For the promise that Becket provided, the Sox parted ways with their No. 1 prospect, Hanley Ramirez, and assumed Lowell's weighty contract, hoping he would return to form at Fenway.
That bet worked out well for both the Red Sox and Lowell, who turned out to be much more than just dead weight or a contract dump.
In 2006, his first year with the Sox, Lowell played in 153 games and rebounded soundly, batting .284 with 20 homers, 80 RBI, and an .814 OPS.
He followed that with an outstanding 2007 season, in which he had career highs in batting average (.324) and RBI (120) to go with 21 home runs and an .879 OPS in 154 games. Lowell's RBI total set a Red Sox record for third basemen.
The surging Lowell ended his outstanding season with a torrid October. In Boston's four-game World Series sweep of Colorado, Lowell hit .400 (6-for-15) with four RBI, three walks, and a team-high six runs. He homered, doubled, and scored twice in the Game Four clincher at Denver's Coors Field, en route to winning the World Series MVP.
During the Red Sox's subsequent victory parade around Boston, fans held signs aloft and loudly voiced their demands that the club re-sign the third baseman. Lowell had endeared himself to Red Sox Nation.
However, his stellar performance had also gotten the attention of other clubs. The Yankees reportedly offered Lowell a four-year deal worth $50-$55 million to play first base.
That year, Lowell was still a productive hitter, batting .274 with 17 homers, 73 RBI, and a .798 OPS. He followed that up last season by batting .290 with 17 homers, 75 RBI, and an .811 OPS.
But the problem was that Lowell played in just 113 games in 2008, followed by 119 in 2009.
However, in Lowell's view, he could have played more last season. "I feel like I could have played in another 15 to 20 games,'' he said recently.
Apparently the Red Sox saw things differently—and still do.
Lowell will be 36 next month, and the club is concerned that the combination of age and a surgically repaired hip (which may have become arthritic) has permanently affected his range and mobility.
Doctors told Lowell that his hip would not fully recover for a year. Yet, he still played 119 games last season, which may have slowed his healing and recovery to some degree.
In the past two years, prominent players such as Alex Rodriguez, Chase Utley, Carlos Delgado, and Alex Gordon have also undergone hip labrum surgery. But, with the exception of the 37-year-old Delgado, all were younger than Lowell. That likely aided their successful recoveries.
Lowell has dedicated himself to an offseason training regimen geared toward strengthening his hip and improving joint mobility. He says the hip feels better now than at any point last season and is confident in a full recovery. The Red Sox seem less optimistic.
Despite the fact that a lingering right thumb injury blew up a proposed trade to the Rangers, the resulting surgery was described as rather mundane and shouldn't limit Lowell at all. A full recovery is projected. The prescribed rehabilitation period is six to eight weeks and would put Lowell on schedule to start spring training with his teammates next month.
The potential deterioration of his right hip is a much larger matter.
Lowell will have to prove to the Red Sox, and any potential trade partners, that he is fully recovered and can be more than just a DH. But even then, he still has to be able to run the bases effectively.
The Puerto Rican native is a consummate professional. He understands the burden is on him to prove that he is ready and still capable. Lowell still sees himself as an everyday player and wants his name written into the daily lineup card.
That's why the implosion of the deal with Texas affected Lowell as much as the Red Sox. He is entering another contract year and wants to prove himself worthy of one more contract. That aside, he's a gamer who wants to be on the field for at least 150 games per season.
With the Red Sox, he knows he won't get that chance in 2010.
When his playing time was cut down following the acquisition of Victor Martinez at the trade deadline last season, Lowell was not happy. And he will not be happy playing behind Kevin Youkilis, or anyone else, this season.
Yet, he hasn't let the trade talk affect his public demeanor, noting, "I can honestly say I haven't lost a single minute of sleep because of [those reports]."
Perhaps that's because he's guaranteed to be paid $12 million this year, whether he plays or not. But still, the relationship between Lowell and the Red Sox may be irreparably damaged.
Since the Red Sox are reportedly unwilling to consider him as a starter this season, they are still intent on dealing him. And all potential trade partners already know that the Sox are willing to eat 75 percent of his salary. That's not a position of strength for the Red Sox.
“I understand the business. I have no problem in them shopping me around," the classy Lowell said recently.
That's a very professional attitude, and one that we've come to expect from Lowell over his four years in Boston.
The fact that defense has become an issue for Lowell is quite an irony; despite his physical limitations in each of the last two seasons, he still holds the all-time highest fielding percentage for a third baseman.
Yes, as incredible as it may sound, in 1,470 games at third base, Lowell's .976 fielding percentage is good enough for No. 1 all-time, ahead of Brooks Robinson, according to Baseball-Almanac.com.
Lowell also holds the National League record for fewest errors in a season, set in 2004, when he made just seven miscues in 396 total chances. He won the NL Gold Glove the following season when he committed just six errors in 356 chances.
But as far as the Red Sox are concerned, that was then, this is now.
Though Lowell remains a persistent offensive threat, the club will continue to explore all trade avenues through spring training—whatever the cost.
That will result in a disappointing end to the tenure of one of the better third basemen in Red Sox history, and one of the highest-character players ever to have worn the Red Sox uniform.
During his time in Boston, Lowell proved himself to be more than just dead weight. Yet, that is how he is perceived by the organization at this point.
We can't forget that Lowell has already beaten cancer, and we shouldn't discount the possibility that he has yet another bounce-back season left in him.
I, for one, hope so—wherever he plays.