Lowell dealing with it
FORT MYERS, Fla. - Before Mike Lowell arrived at spring training Monday, one of the final Red Sox to do so, he had a long conversation over the phone with general manager Theo Epstein. They talked again yesterday. And while no one else was privy to those conversations, it’s hard to imagine they were full of roses and rainbows, hopes and dreams for the upcoming season.
Because, at this point, it’s clear Lowell doesn’t really want to be in Boston. He wants to start. There’s no place for him to start with the Sox, barring injury.
Though he was diplomatic talking to the media yesterday, saying all the right things and reacting all the right ways, Lowell has been put in a difficult position. He has to walk through a clubhouse and see Adrian Beltre, the man who will be taking over his spot in the infield, his spot in the lineup. As he said, “I think if I was on the trading block before, I can’t imagine that all of a sudden I’m not now.’’
“Mike’s intelligent, so he knows the situation,’’ Epstein said. “He knows that coming off last season if we felt like he physically could go out and do the job and be our every-day third baseman that we wouldn’t have made these moves. But we felt like, taking a look at all the factors, that it was something that we had to do for the sake of the team, so we did. The team always comes first.
“Now trying to put myself in Mike’s shoes, yeah, it’s a tough situation for him, someone who’s always been an every-day player his whole career. But things have changed.
“We have to take a look at all the factors, the physical capabilities at this point to go out and do a job every day and do what’s right for this team. That’s all we did, and he understands that. He doesn’t have to agree with the decision, but he respects it.’’
And Lowell certainly doesn’t appear to agree with the fundamentals of Epstein’s argument. He said multiple times yesterday that he believes he’s capable of starting for a major league team. He believes he’s healthier than last year, that his body can take the stress, that he can be a valuable asset to a club. It’s clear the Sox don’t feel the same.
It also appears the Sox might have gotten Lowell into this situation. After injuring his right thumb on a foul ball the last weekend of the season, Lowell reported it to the training staff. He reported it again after resting, once he tried to start working out and it hurt when he did pushing exercises. He said the same thing again four weeks later.
Then the Sox agreed to trade him to Texas. But that trade was voided when the Rangers discovered Lowell would require surgery on the thumb after an MRI taken in December.
But why wasn’t the MRI taken earlier in the offseason? Was it even brought up before then?
“No, and that’s probably the little gray area,’’ Lowell said.
So here he is, back in Fort Myers, back at the center of the media’s attention, back in a place that might grow more uncomfortable should the Sox fail to move him by the start of the season.
Asked if Lowell could remain in Boston, even if there are no injuries (to, say, Beltre or Kevin Youkilis or David Ortiz), Epstein said, “Oh, I fully expect him to be on this team.’’
To that end, Lowell has to prove that he’s healthy, whether he ends up staying with the Sox or is shipped out. He said he could be ready to play in the first games of spring training in a week, but that he likely would be held back a few extra days. Once he is ready to fully participate, the Sox will get him time at first base in addition to third. That, of course, might be to showcase him. Or it might be because the Sox don’t really have a backup first baseman.
“We have to respect who he is as a player and as a person and try to help him get ready to help this team,’’ Epstein said.
“Everyone agrees that you never know what’s going to happen in this game. Situations change all the time. If something opens up here for Mike to make more of an impact, play more, and we didn’t get him ready, then we didn’t do our job. So we’ve got to get him ready. Maybe something will open up, or maybe he’ll help in more of a reserve role.’’
Trading him might not be easy, either. There aren’t many clubs with money to throw around at this point, which was one of the reasons the Sox were going to kick in $9 million to help Texas pay Lowell’s $12 million salary in 2010, the final year of his contract.
It seems unlikely the Sox would offer much more than that in any future deal.
When asked how comfortable he would be with a reserve role, Lowell said, “I’ve never been approached saying that’s in their plans. But if I’m definitely healthier at this point than I was last year, I don’t see why I should have less at-bats.’’
Lowell said the thumb is progressing well, with no fatigue at this point. He added that he should be taking batting practice within a week. His hip, which affected him all last season, “is probably about 10 times stronger than it was last year.’’ But there is still some discomfort when he runs. That hasn’t entirely gone away, though it is significantly better than last season.
“You get frustrated, because the first 10 years of my career I’m basically, I hit, I warm up, I take batting practice, then I go,’’ Lowell said. “Last year I think was about an hour-and-15-minute routine that I had to go through to get ready in order to feel like crap.’’
He no longer feels that way, at least not physically. Now Lowell is left to cope with the emotional fallout of being shipped off, then returned. But the third baseman seemed at peace yesterday with all that has happened, if not exactly happy about it.
“I want to stress that I wasn’t stressed,’’ Lowell said of his offseason. “I think I get the grand scheme of things, like what I value and what I don’t. Not that I don’t value baseball, but I’m pretty confident I’m going to be in the big leagues this year somewhere, and I still view that as a privilege.
“No one needs to feel sorry for me for the situation of my life right now.’’
As for whether Lowell believes he’ll still be in Boston by the start of the regular season, he said, “I have no idea. I really don’t.’’
Amalie Benjamin can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.