boston.com Sports Sportsin partnership with NESN your connection to The Boston Globe

Exciting signs

Red Sox reach terms with Drew and Lugo

LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. -- While conceding that Manny Ramírez may be coming back after all -- and where have you heard that one before? -- the Red Sox completed two moves that should significantly upgrade their offense, especially if the slugging left fielder is going nowhere, as manager Terry Francona suggested yesterday.

Agent Scott Boras confirmed yesterday that the Sox had completed a five-year, $70 million deal for outfielder J.D. Drew, who almost certainly will bat fifth and play right field. Then, late last night, the Sox struck a four-year, $36 million deal for their No. 1 target at shortstop, Julio Lugo, the onetime Tampa Bay Devil Ray whose glove is vastly inferior to that of departing shortstop Alex Gonzalez but who gives Francona a dynamic, speedy offensive player who projects to bat leadoff or second.

The Sox held off on an official announcement of both deals pending the passing of physicals, which should be routine. Drew's physical should come in the next four or five days.

"I think Drew is a great fit to complement our existing personnel," said Red Sox general manager Theo Epstein. "If you look, last year and the last couple of years -- especially last year -- a couple of our weaknesses were a No. 5 hitter and outfield defense, generally, especially with a fly-ball staff, which we have. Drew, if we end up signing him officially, he addresses both of those areas of concern."

Epstein, while acknowledging questions about Drew's durability -- he has been on the disabled list seven times in eight years -- noted that Drew had played at least 145 games in two of the last three seasons. He also responded to questions about Drew's passion and commitment by citing what he called "the most insightful episode" of Curt Schilling calling into radio station WEEI to defend the 31-year-old outfielder, who brings a lifetime on-base percentage of .393 to the Sox.

Drew's impending acquisition has already drawn withering criticism in Boston. But to make a decision about the player based on that, Epstein said, "would truly be a case of the tail wagging the dog."

Drew became available when he opted out of the last three years of his deal with the Dodgers, leaving $33 million on the table.

"He really has a great swing for Fenway Park," Epstein said. "When he pulls the ball and elevates the ball, it will certainly reach the bullpen. He's got plus raw power. The big dimensions in right field and even center field won't be a problem for him. If you look at his hit chart, those balls get out."

There was no word on when Lugo would undergo his physical.

"He is very contagious," Devil Rays manager Joe Maddon said. "In the dugout prior to the game, this guy is the kind of guy that runs up and down the dugout, slaps everybody, high-five, has a special handshake for everybody, plays with enthusiasm always.

"He's very contagious. He's a leader. He's a leader in the sense that he sets a good example. [The Devil Rays] just missed his presence on a daily basis."

Lugo, who is Dominican-born, Brooklyn-raised, and made it to the big leagues after being drafted on the 43d round by the Astros in 1994, comes with some baggage. The Astros dumped him in 2003 after a domestic-assault charge involving his then-wife, a charge on which he was eventually cleared. He subsequently remarried and found a home in Tampa Bay, where he was a favorite of former D-Rays manager Lou Piniella.

"He was unbelievable with us," said Rick Vaughn, the Devil Rays' vice president of media relations. "None of that business was evident with us. He's been awesome. That's the truth.

"He's been cooperative, he's been a model citizen, he's had his family at events at the ballpark, he had his baby shower at the ballpark. He's been a family-oriented guy since we had him. That's the truth. He's one of the guys I really enjoyed being with."

The Sox have long had an interest in the 31-year-old Lugo, nearly trading for him last winter as part of a three-way deal with Atlanta and Tampa Bay. A veteran of seven seasons in the big leagues, Lugo has a lifetime batting average of .277 and on-base percentage of .340. Last season, he was batting .308 with a .373 OBP in 73 games with the Devil Rays before going to the Dodgers in a trading-deadline deal.

The Dodgers, who used Lugo at a variety of positions, including outfield, offered him salary arbitration last week. Other suitors included the Blue Jays, who dropped their pursuit of Lugo when his price became too high and instead signed veteran Royce Clayton; the Cubs, whom Piniella is now managing but whose only available position was center field; and the Mets, who were hoping to draw Lugo back home to play second base.

Since the start of the 2004 season, 11 players have started at least one game at shortstop for the Sox, and the succession of regulars has gone from Pokey Reese to Nomar Garciaparra to Orlando Cabrera to Edgar Renteria to Gonzalez, who was the best of the bunch defensively but was allowed to walk as a free agent, signing with the Cincinnati Reds.

Lugo is not in Gonzalez's galaxy defensively. He has never made fewer than 20 errors in a full season at short, and errant throws are a particular problem.

Meanwhile, Francona indicated that he did not believe Ramírez would be traded.

"I don't see it happening," said the manager. "Everyone hears the whispers. I don't think it's any big secret that there are times of the year that he feels Boston is closing in on him.

"But he still shows up to play. You put that bat behind David [Ortiz], that's when we're rolling. That's the biggest part of the devastation of our lineup. Rather than doing something different, you have to swallow, turn your head, take a deep breath. It's not perfect, but it's pretty good. We all have warts. We're not perfect."

Epstein said he is giving it one more day to engage clubs in conversations about Ramírez, and then he is going into listen-only mode. But the expectation that Ramírez would be dealt at the winter meetings diminished by the hour, as one club after another fell short of the Sox' demand for "fair value."

"That's been our default position," Epstein said about the possibility of Ramírez coming back. "We're prepared to keep the core of our lineup intact.

"We always listen. There's a lot of talent out there. We still are. We'll be engaging with teams until tomorrow, and then we're in listen-only mode."

But all the talk in the last couple of days has led the Sox closer to the conclusion that Ramírez isn't going anywhere, despite their dissatisfaction with how he ended last season, playing little the last six weeks, ostensibly because of a sore right knee. It also calls into question how Ramírez will respond, given his oft-repeated wish to be dealt.

The Padres were an early dropout, the Dodgers and Angels have declared themselves the longest of long shots, the Giants would like to stay in it but have little to offer, and one baseball official whose team has been involved in talks dismissed the reports of the Nationals being party to a three-way deal.

"The Nationals are putting that out," the official said.

The Sox still need a closer, and yesterday they spoke with Boras about the oft-injured Eric Gagne, who dominated the National League early in the decade for the Dodgers but has had elbow and shoulder problems.

The Sox and Daisuke Matsuzaka, meanwhile, remain far apart, with a Dec. 14 deadline looming.

Boras, who also represents the Japanese pitcher, said, "Matsuzaka has a dream to pitch in the major leagues and he is going to fulfill that dream. The time frame of it, I can't exactly predict. He knows his skill level is one that he is going to be a major leaguer someday.

"He is going to play for a major league team. That part of it is something he has been aware of for a long time. When that time will come, I can't tell you. We are going to do our best to see how this works out."

Boras's position has been that Matsuzaka should be paid in line with the game's top pitchers. The Red Sox, who posted $51.1 million for the right to negotiate with Matsuzaka, disagree. If the parties cannot reach agreement by midnight Dec. 14, Matsuzaka's rights go back to his Japanese team, the Seibu Lions.

Nick Cafardo of the Globe staff contributed to this report; Gordon Edes can be reached at edes@globe.com

Photo Gallery SURVEY GALLERY: Rate the deals
Pop-up CAREER STATS: J.D. Drew  |  Julio Lugo
SEARCH THE ARCHIVES