The Red Sox acted quickly yesterday in addressing their need to fill the gaping hole left by the knee injury to catcher Jason Varitek. According to major league sources, Boston has struck a deal for disgruntled Baltimore catcher Javy Lopez in exchange for a player to be named, but one who is currently on the Red Sox' 40-man roster.
As one Orioles official put it last night, ``[Lopez is] not what he used to be, but for what the Red Sox need him for -- a month or so -- he was the best guy out there for them. He can still hit. Doubt he can catch every day and he'll need some help from the pitchers."
Lopez, who did his damage in Atlanta and helped win a World Series for the Braves in 1995, may not think that description is flattering, but if he provides a stopgap for Varitek, it's worth the price.
According to Orioles vice president of baseball operations Jim Duquette, in addition to Lopez, the Orioles are expected to send up to $1.4 million to help defray the $2.75 million remaining in the catcher's contract, which expires at season's end.
The deal must be approved by the commissioner's office, possibly as early as today, because at least $1 million is changing hands, according to Duquette. The deal shouldn't be jeopardized because of the money, but until the stamp of approval comes from the big office, it can't be official. If it happens today, Lopez could be in uniform tonight in Tampa Bay.
Indications are the Orioles could receive one of the following players: switch-hitting center fielder Adam Stern, switch-hitting infielder Alejandro Machado, or, less likely, lefthander Abe Alvarez. Whichever player is involved must clear waivers before the deal is consummated.
Lopez, 35, has been disgruntled all season after losing his starting job to Ramon Hernandez, considered one of the top defensive catchers in baseball. Lopez has been used at first base, DH, and occasionally behind the plate. In recent days he had been openly asking for the Orioles to trade him or place him on waivers, but the team wasn't able to move him by Monday's nonwaiver trade deadline. He passed through waivers yesterday and was claimed by the Red Sox.
``I think what would make sense at the moment is to put me on waivers so I can play somewhere else. That way the team would have less headaches in putting the lineup together every day and I'd be more comfortable playing somewhere else instead of once a week here," Lopez told the Baltimore Sun Tuesday.
He then went on to rip Orioles management for being uncommunicative.
``It is uncomfortable the fact you don't hear anything," Lopez said. ``Communication in this organization is very, very poor. You have no idea what is happening. And the reason why you are not playing for a while, they give you no heads-up to tell you what's going on."
The Orioles didn't want to have to pick up the remaining portion of his salary, but realized they had to kick in something to cut their losses.
The Sox had been looking at using Doug Mirabelli for the majority of their games, with journeyman Ken Huckaby getting the start last night. But it became evident quickly the Red Sox couldn't go very long with that combination. It could be that Lopez is replaced defensively in the late innings by Mirabelli. That remains to be seen as the Sox need to watch him catch and throw for a while before deciding how to use him.
The 6-foot-3-inch, 230-pound Lopez has had some huge years with the Braves.
In 1998, he hit 34 homers and knocked in 106 runs. In 2003, he hit 43 homers and knocked in 109 runs, batting .328. That earned him a lucrative three-year, $22.5 million deal from the Orioles. He produced in '04, appearing in 150 games (catching 132 games) with 23 homers, 86 RBIs, and a .316 average for Baltimore.
He also has extensive postseason experience, appearing in 60 games, including two World Series. He's a .278 postseason hitter with 10 homers and 28 RBIs in 205 at-bats.
Lopez bemoaned the fact he wasn't playing much and therefore unable to get into his usual groove at the plate. He was hitting .265 with 8 homers and 31 RBIs in 75 games.
While Lopez should get his at-bats with the Sox over the next month, beyond that will likely be an issue, when and if Varitek stakes claim to his old job. The Sox do not appear to be looking at this move as anything but a bridge to the day Varitek can play. If Lopez should get red-hot, would the Sox carry three catchers in the postseason and use Lopez as a bat off the bench with his experience?
``If he plays every day and starts getting hot, there's no doubt he can carry a lineup," said the Orioles official. ``But we haven't seen that for a while."
Varitek's surgery, meanwhile, went ``as planned," according to a release issued by the team yesterday.
Gordon Edes of the Globe staff contributed to this report.