Red Sox cut ties with underachieving Lugo
Epstein admits shortstop's four-year deal was mistake
TORONTO -- Willing to admit that the signing of free agent Julio Lugo was an expensive mistake, the Red Sox cut ties with the underachieving shortstop by designating him for assignment on Friday.
Thus, Lugo's disappointing two-and-a-half year tenure with the Red Sox has come to an end with roughly $13.5 million left on the four-year, $36 million contract that was signed in December 2006.
"I think ownership has been consistent that we'll do what we need to do to put the best possible team on the field and the sunk cost is the sunk cost," said Red Sox general manager Theo Epstein. "We're sorry it didn't work out better with Julio, obviously, but keeping him on the team wasn't going to change that. Sometimes the best organizations admit their mistakes and move on, and that's what we're doing here.
"This was one of the free-agent signings that didn't work out and we ended up paying for past performance, not current performance. That's the definition of a mistake, and as the decision maker, that's on me. We'll just move on and try to make better decisions going forward."
Epstein has seven days to work out a trade for Lugo, acknowledging that the Red Sox will be on the hook for most of the remaining balance of his salary. If nothing can be worked out, Lugo will be given his release and become a free agent.
Epstein informed Lugo of the decision on Friday. The sides had been in frequent communication over the past few days.
"I gave it my best and, unfortunately, things didn't work out," Lugo told the Boston Herald. "This is the best for both parties. I wanted it to work out but it didn't."
With Clay Buchholz being promoted from Triple-A Pawtucket to pitch Friday's game against the Blue Jays and third baseman Mike Lowell activated from the 15-day disabled list, the Red Sox needed space on their roster. First baseman Aaron Bates was optioned to Triple-A Pawtucket, creating the other spot.
When shortstop Jed Lowrie is likely activated on Saturday, the Red Sox are expected to option Buchholz back to Pawtucket.
Because of Nick Green's emergence from non-roster invitee to key contributor, and Lowrie's imminent return, the Red Sox essentially didn't have a spot for Lugo.
|Since 2004, the Red Sox have used 19 different players to man shortstop.|
|2004||Pokey Reese||827 2/3||85||189||6||.221|
|2004||Nomar Garciaparra||311 1/3||52||81||6||.321|
|2004||Cesar Crespo||96 1/3||20||30||3||.165|
|2005||Alex Cora||48 1/3||9||24||0||.269|
|2005||Alejandro Machado||2 2/3||1||1||0||.200|
|2006||Alex Gonzalez||966 1/3||163||305||7||.255|
|2007||Julio Lugo||1228 1/3||214||360||19||.237|
|2007||Alex Cora||202 1/3||25||69||3||.246|
|2008||Julio Lugo||671 1/3||100||176||16||.268|
|2009||Nick Green||486 1/3||80||151||9||.257|
|2009||Julio Lugo||243 1/3||39||51||7||.284|
|2009||GIl Velazquez||11 2/3||3||3||0||.000|
"I think it's just a matter of putting our best team on the field," Epstein said. "That's really the motivation behind it, and Jed Lowrie ready to be recalled [Saturday], Nick Green playing well and out of options, it felt like those two would be our best combination for the shortstop position at this point."
Though the Red Sox have had tremendous success in the Epstein regime, which started in 2003, they've lacked stability at shortstop.
Nomar Garciaparra was dealt for Orlando Cabrera on July 31, 2004, and that certainly worked out well, helping spark the Sox to a World Series championship. But the Red Sox opted to let Cabrera leave as a free agent that winter, and Epstein signed Edgar Renteria to a four-year, $40 million deal.
Noticing Renteria's decline defensively (30 errors) in his one season with the club, the Red Sox traded him to the Braves in December of 2005, acquiring prospect Andy Marte, who was later spun off to the Indians for Coco Crisp.
Alex Gonzalez, who did a tremendous job defensively for the Sox but offered little in the way of offense, manned the position in 2006.
Then it was Lugo's turn.
Originally signed to be the club's leadoff hitter, Lugo struggled early in his first season and never fully rebounded to be the sparkplug the Red Sox remember playing against with the Tampa Bay Rays. Lugo batted in the bottom portion of the order during most of his time in Boston. But the bigger issue was his defense.
After making 16 errors in the first half of the 2008 season, Lugo tore his left quad and missed the entire second half.
He came to Spring Training this season eager to try to reclaim his job in a position battle with Lowrie. But that plan ended when Lugo, 33, had to undergo right knee surgery in March.
Though Lowrie had to undergo left wrist surgery in April, Lugo couldn't capitalize on the opening once he returned to the roster on April 27. His range was seemingly limited from his leg woes, and he was supplanted by Green for good in late May.
Playing in 37 games this season, Lugo hit .284 with one homer and eight RBIs. He made seven errors in 97 total chances.
"It started out poorly from before Day One," said Epstein. "He called us over the winter after we signed him and he said he had a sickness or a stomach issue, a pretty bad issue, where he lost like 15 pounds. When he showed up, he lacked a lot of strength and some quickness, but particularly the strength, it was gone. [That] got him off on the wrong foot and was never with us the player that he was in Tampa Bay.
"We tried a lot of things to get the best out of him. We did win a World Series with him as our everyday shortstop and he did make a lot of contributions to that world championship. That's not to be lost in the mix, but, obviously, we'd be fudging the truth to say it worked out the way we envisioned it. [He] just never got on track here. [He] never really got locked in and comfortable and never played even close to the way we expected."
As Epstein noted, that is sometimes the price of high-stakes free agency.
"When you dabble in free agency, sometimes these things happen. That's kind of the nature of the beast," Epstein said. "We're trying to grow the organization to the point where we don't have to ever get a free agent. We're probably closer to that point now then we were two or three offseasons ago. It's a lesson learned for sure."
And at the shortstop position, Epstein is confident the organization now has enough to avoid another expensive fix that doesn't pan out.
"Obviously, we have Lowrie coming up now to complement Nick Green," Epstein said. "We have [Argenis] Diaz at Double-A and [Yamaico] Navarro is really showing a lot of good things behind him in high [Class A] ball, and [Oscar] Tejeda behind him, and in a couple of cases, we've just signed or are close to [international] signings, so hopefully we have enough talent at the shortstop position to address that internally for years to come."
Ian Browne is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.