Boston Red Sox

Boston Red Sox

Sunday, November 16, 2008

Lugo for D-Train or Robertson?

A Boston/Detroit Swap Would Make Sense For Both Teams

After two years of waiting for their investment to finally pay off, the Red Sox are clearly hoping to find a taker for the highly disappointing, and highly overpaid, Julio Lugo.

The shortstop has been a liability both in the field and at the plate during his tenure with the Red Sox.

Defensively, Lugo has displayed little of the athleticism and range that prompted Theo Epstein to sign him to a four-year, $36 million contract two years ago. Lugo made 16 errors in just 81 games this past season, after making 19 errors in 145 games in 2007. Only six Major League shortstops made more errors than Lugo this year, but no one made so many in so few chances (292). In fact, no one else was even close.

But fielding isn't the only aspect of the game in which Lugo has been an abject failure. After being obtained by the Dodgers in a deadline trade with the Rays in 2006, the light-hitting infielder batted just .219. It wasn't a fluke; Lugo followed that by hitting just .237 in his first season with the Red Sox, before raising his average to .268 in limited action this year.

Ever the rally killer, Lugo (.139) was the worst hitter in baseball with runners in scoring position this year. To make matters worse for the Sox, Jason Varitek (.179) was fifth.

Yet Lugo, who just turned 33 today, may still have value in a salary-swap trade.

The Tigers are considering a deal with the Sox that would send either Nate Robertson (2 years, $17 million remaining) or Dontrelle Willis (2 years, $22 million remaining) to Boston in exchange for Lugo. However, some money issues are said to need resolution. With 2 years and $18 million remaining on Lugo's contract, the stickler could be this; a $9M option for 2011 that vests with 2,400 plate appearances from 2007-2010, and 600 plate appearances in 2010.

However, since Lugo had just 831 at-bats over the past two years, such an issue doesn’t seem to be of great concern. And going forward, limiting his plate appearances seems to be a mere formality. One of Lugo’s major problems is the fact that he can’t hit. That would likely move him to the bottom of anyone’s order, guaranteeing fewer plate appearances. It would be highly unlikely that any player could reach 600 ABs batting 8th or 9th. Furthermore, a team could sit Lugo in the final weeks of the 2010 season to limit his at bat’s and assure less than 600 plate appearances. This would prevent the option from kicking in.

Willis, who turns 27 in January, was 0-2 with a 9.38 ERA in just eight games with Detroit this year. After trading for what they expected to be a top of the rotation pitcher, the stunned Tigers quickly demoted the floundering lefty to the Minors on June 10. He returned to make three September starts, going 0-1 with a 8.53 ERA.

The 31-year-old Robertson was 7-11 with a 6.35 ERA in 32 games (28 starts) with Detroit. Also a southpaw, he recorded 108 strikeouts and issued 62 walks over 168 2/3 innings.

The Red Sox would acquire either pitcher with the hope that John Farrell, and a change of scenery, could somehow straighten him out. Willis, though possessing the fatter contract, would still seem to be the better value. Not only is he more than four years younger than Robertson, he also won 22 games for he Marlins in 2005. And prior to this year, Willis had averaged nearly 14 wins and a 3.78 ERA over the five previous seasons.

On the other hand, since becoming a full-time starter in 2004, Robertson has had just one winning season, to go along with a 4.87 ERA.

Naturally, there are risks with both pitchers, and the Red Sox would surely be concerned about the long-term health of Willis. But Lugo has played his way out of Boston and has a prohibitive contract for a bench warmer. If not for the possibility of swapping two equally bad contracts, the Red Sox would likely have to eat as much as two-thirds of Lugo's remaining pact while potentially settling for little more than a mid-level prospect in return. That won't help in 2009, if at all.

The Sox would be better served to take a flier on Willis than to let Lugo play behind Jed Lowrie, or pay him to play for the opposition. The Tigers need a shortstop, and considering the similarity of the contracts in play, they would assume no more risk than they already face at present.

Copyright © 2008 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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