Spring dance: Limbo
It’s awkward, but Lowell, Sox both bent on success
FORT MYERS, Fla. - This is awkward.
Try to imagine a newly divorced couple suddenly forced to live together again under the same roof. The stream of silence is interrupted only by the occasional slammed door.
Frosty. Strained. Awkward.
Mike Lowell is back with the Red Sox even though they tried to trade him to Texas in December. The Sox gave Lowell away, agreeing to pay three-quarters of his 2010 salary if the Rangers would take him. It was an insult to Lowell. And then the Rangers voided the deal when Lowell failed a physical because of a damaged ligament in his right thumb.
So now he’s back. With the Red Sox. Sort of.
Lowell arrived in Fort Myers Monday and will participate in the Sox’ first full-squad workout today . . . unless general manager Theo Epstein trades him again before 9 a.m.
Ever the class act, Lowell faced the media and answered every question yesterday. When WBZ’s intrepid Jonny Miller asked, “What will you remember most about the years in Boston?’’ Lowell answered, “I’m not dead, Jonny. So, I don’t know. I have a lot of good memories, but that doesn’t mean it’s over.’’
But it is over. Lowell has to go. Even though he is a fan favorite who was Most Valuable Player of the 2007 World Series . . . even though he hit .324 with 21 homers and 120 RBIs just three years ago . . . even though he hit .290 with 17 homers and 75 RBIs in only 119 games last year.
The Sox found his replacement and gave the third base job to Adrian Beltre. They’ve got a first baseman in Kevin Youkilis. They’ve got a DH in David Ortiz. Lowell is not part of the plan even if he’s still part of the roster.
“There’s no real playing time for me here, barring a major injury,’’ he said, matter-of-factly. “And I’m not really in the business of hoping someone gets hurt just so I get at-bats. I feel like I’m more prepared and ready for a full season than I was last year, so why shouldn’t I play more than I did last year? Whether it’s here or somewhere else, I really can’t control that.
“I’m pretty set that things were going to come to an end sooner or later. I didn’t think I was going to play forever. I really haven’t stopped to think about how I feel. This might seem awkward, baseball-wise, but I actually enjoy being on the field. I like seeing all the guys I haven’t seen. I had dinner with Jacoby [Ellsbury] and [Dustin] Pedroia yesterday. I like that aspect of it. I’m excited to hit on the field and play in games. The competition drives me.
“Have I enjoyed Boston? Of course, I’ve enjoyed Boston. I’ve never said that I haven’t. I don’t really have any regrets whichever way we’re going to go.’’
Today is Lowell’s 36th birthday. He’s the consummate professional and has a solid résumé after 12 years in the big leagues. Major hip surgery after the 2008 season slowed him significantly, but he still can hit.
His status in Boston always has been shaky. The Sox were forced to take Lowell and his salary as part of the deal that brought Josh Beckett to Boston after the 2005 season - when Theo was pouting and touring the world with Pearl Jam. Eschewing a better offer from the Phillies, Lowell signed a lofty three-year extension with the Sox after the ’07 Series. That’s when he was at the height of his powers and popularity. Within a year of the new deal, the Sox were looking to trade him.
Getting traded and coming back is bad enough. Lowell’s also had to hear about how horrible the Sox were on defense last year. More than once Theo has talked about all the balls hit to the left side that should have been outs. The culprits, naturally, were Julio Lugo and Lowell.
“Last year was definitely a step back from what I was used to,’’ Lowell said. “I think my hip was capable to do movements, but not on any every-day basis. Last year was a big struggle.’’
Has he been insulted by the rhetoric?
“I don’t think it matters what I feel about that [code for “You’re damn right it’s insulting!’’]. I know they’re trying to go in a direction where they think the team is better and the player always takes a back seat to those decisions. So I don’t really feel I win out by saying, ‘What a great decision this was’ or ‘This was a poor decision.’ I’m highly motivated to show that I can play. Where that takes me, I don’t know. I’m anxious to see what happens.
“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.’’
Clearly, these are the final days of Lowell’s time in Boston. Whether he’s traded or released, he’ll go to another team and the Sox will pay most of the $12 million they owe him . . . and pray Beltre gets off to a good start.
Theo’s nightmare goes something like this: Beltre doesn’t hit, the Sox have trouble scoring runs, and we see Lowell in a new uniform, rounding the bases on the nightly news while an un-retired Bob Lobel crows, “Why can’t we get players like that?’’
Dan Shaughnessy is a Globe columnist. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.