Mike Lowell was ready to play, Clay Buchholz was needed to start – and Julio Lugo, making $9 million a year, wasn’t playing as well as Nick Green. So, the Boston Red Sox dispatched Aaron Bates to AAA to make room for Buchholz, and – making room for Lowell – designated Lugo for assignment. [ESPN]
Boston had been trying to trade Lugo, but Lugo hadn’t been able to stay healthy over the last two years and leg injuries appeared to have sapped his defensive range. Nobody was willing to take on Lugo’s salary, and now someone can have him for the league minimum.
What are you getting for your Julio Lugo dollar?
Well – comments about Lugo’s diminished range are legit; he’s lost more than a step.
In 2005 with Tampa Bay, Lugo would have been my pick to win the Gold Glove. (They gave it to Derek Jeter because he’s, well, Derek Jeter.) The average shortstop made about 4.43 plays per nine innings – without adjustments, Lugo was at 4.82, and when you account for the flyball nature of his staff, grades out at 5.07. (Jeter, before adjustments, was 4.58, but with a groundball staff, the adjusted rate was 4.41 or an edge below average.) That means for every 800 balls in play, Lugo made 18 plays that the average shortsop (Jeter in 2005) didn’t – saving his team some 43 runs over the course of the season. (By the way, Nick Green was on the Rays with Lugo in 2005, and there’s no question that Lugo was a better player and Nick Green wasn’t helping the Rays any.)
Heading to 2006, not only was Lugo still ahead of most shortstops (he was still six plays better than the average SS), he was hitting over .300 and getting on base at a .373 clip. So, LA hoisted him from Tampa for a couple of prospects (who, by the way, never really panned out). Lugo didn’ t hit as well in LA and they bounced him all over the infield – playing well at three positions – for the last two months of the year.
In December, 2006, Lugo signed a four-year, $36 million dollar deal with the Red Sox. In his only full season with Boston, 2007, Lugo was a significant improvement over Edgar Renteria, but was now slowed by quad injuries. His range was almost exactly league average, and going 0 – 33 early in the season contributed to batting .237 and being a well below league average hitter. Hitting .280 with some walks, speed, and a little power and displaying great range is worth $9 million. Hitting under .240 with little power and being ordinary at short isn’t going to cut it. While his bat came back a little in 2008, now his range was below average (-6), and he’s still not a league average hitter. This year, a knee injury didn’t help when Jed Lowrie got injured – and Nick Green played his way onto the team. Lugo played his way to a demotion.
As we see Lugo in 2009, we see someone who is, at best, a utility option. When healthy, he’s not an embarrassing backup – but he’s no longer the type of player who is going to lead you to championships. With all the Mets injuries, he’s better than Argenis Reyes and maybe better than Angel Berroa – and Lugo has played second, third, and the outfield (Omar Minaya, are you listening?). If not the Mets, somebody is going to give him a AAA contract, maybe bring him to the bigs. But, if you get a Julio Lugo baseball card in the 2011 Topps Baseball Card set, it will be a surprise. He’ll be 34 when the season is over, and I don’t see him playing after he turns 35.