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Lowell connector

Posted by Christopher L. Gasper, Globe Staff  December 10, 2009 01:24 PM

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Who says the Red Sox and Scott Boras can't come to an agreement? The Sox have decided to take the insufferable superagent's unsolicited and self-serving advice and trade Mike Lowell.

Fox Sports first reported that, pending physicals -- with Lowell's bad hip, it's no mere formality -- and the commissioner's office signing off on the Sox paying three-fourths of Lowell's $12 million salary for this season, the venerable third baseman will be dealt to the Texas Rangers for 25-year-old catcher Max Ramirez.

Not exactly the answer to the Curtis Granderson trade we were looking for.  

Now, even if they don't end up with outfielder Matt Holliday, the Sox may sign a Boras client, as Lowell's possible replacement at the hot corner is Mariners free agent third baseman Adrian Beltre.

People say that the folks in Foxborough are cold-hearted when it comes to cutting ties with players, but the boys at baseball ops in Fenway can be just as callous when they deem a player no longer useful. Say this for general manager Theo Epstein, he might become unusually enamored with players he covets from other teams, but he never gets sentimental with his own major leaguer roster.

Pedro Martinez, Johnny Damon, Bronson Arroyo, Lowell and possibly Jason Bay are testament to that.

The writing was on the wall for Lowell last season. He was left without a steady seat in the third base, first base, DH, catcher game of musical chairs that began when the Sox picked up Victor Martinez at the trade deadline.

It's been a good and mutually beneficial ride for the Red Sox and Lowell, who took one year, and $14 million less to stay with the Sox following the 2007 season. When the Sox took Lowell as a throw-in to the Josh Beckett trade during Epstein's 80-day abeyance, he was an $18 million albatross (two years at $9 million left on his deal with Florida) coming off the worst season of his career (.236, 8 home runs, 58 RBI).

He leaves Boston four years later as a World Series MVP, a fan favorite and a class act who reclaimed his career. In his four years with the Sox, Lowell, and his tailor-made Green Monster swing, underwent a career renaissance that included a trip to the All-Star game in 2007 and a fifth-place finish in the MVP balloting that year. His average season with the Sox was .293, 19 home runs and 87 RBI.

A former Gold Glover at the hot corner, the torn labrum in Lowell's hip that required surgery following the '08 season rendered him a shell of his former self at third base. The last two seasons it was as painful to watch Lowell try to play the position, hobbling on his bad hip, as it was for him to play on it.

Lowell's total zone fielding runs above average -- the number of runs a player was worth below or above an average player based on fielding plays made -- was a negative 6.6 in 2009.
 
He's being dealt to a contender where his ailing hip won't be an issue -- the Rangers have All-Star third baseman Michael Young -- and he can pick up at-bats as a designated hitter and first baseman, the latter a position that the Sox clearly weren't comfortable with him playing.

Heck, Lowell might have just as good a shot at making the playoffs in Texas as he would have had with the Sox, who are already preparing their AL East concession speech for 2010.

Epstein has lowered expectations so much that the "bridge period" he talked about during the Winter Meetings in Indianapolis seems more like a tunnel time, where the Sox are resigned to travel beneath the Yankees until uber-prospects like Casey Kelly and Ryan Westmoreland see the major league light of day.

Texas won 87 games last year and was sitting at 75-58 on Sept. 2, 2.5 games behind the Sox for the AL wild card and 3.5 games behind the Angels in the AL West, when Young's hamstring injury caused him to miss 23 games over the final month-plus of the season.

The defensive part of potentially swapping out Lowell for Beltre makes a lot of sense, one of the few things in this off-season that does for the Sox.

The 30-year-old Beltre is an excellent defensive third baseman. He won the AL Gold Glove in 2007 and 2008 and even with a bum left shoulder last year that required in-season surgery to remove bone spurs he still posted a plus-5.5 total zone fielding runs above average.

His bat is a bigger question mark. Beltre has never come close to approximating his incredible 2004 season with the Dodgers. That year Beltre led the NL in homers with 48, while batting .334, driving in 121 runs and slugging .629. In five seasons in Seattle, he never slugged above .500 and never drove in 100 runs. His best season as a Mariner was 2007, when he hit .276 with 26 home runs and 99 RBI.

Limited to 111 games last season by the shaky shoulder, Beltre hit as many home runs as Jacoby Ellsbury (8) and finished with a lower slugging percentage than Ells (.417 to .379 for Beltre), while batting an eminently pedestrian .265.

The best overall fix for third would be shifting Kevin Youkilis across the diamond and acquiring a power-hitting slugger like Adrian Gonzalez or Miguel Cabera to play first, but in order to do that, the Sox would have to part with their precious prospects.

For a team whose most pressing off-season need is a big bat -- and that need becomes greater if Bay walks away and the asking price to enter the Boras-concocted bidding war for Holliday is simply too steep -- trading Lowell and replacing him with Beltre is a lateral move in the lineup.

But then again that's what this off-season has been all about for the Sox so far -- making lateral moves while the latitude between them and the Yankees grows wider.   
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The word

Christopher L. Gasper riffs on the news

Dearth

...That's what the Patriots have when it comes to picks in the 2013 NFL Draft, which starts Thursday. After all those years of stockpiling picks the way a survivalist does non-perishables the Patriots have just five picks in this year's draft, thanks to Band-aid trades for Albert Haynesworth, Chad Ochocinco and Aqib Talib. Five picks would be the fewest draft picks in franchise history. (Part of that is attributable to the trimming of the draft to just seven rounds in 1994). Further complicating matters is that two of the Patriots' greatest needs are at wide receiver and cornerback, positions where they have sustained draft droughts. With that in mind, I'm convinced the Patriots are going trade back out of the first round of a quanity-over-quality draft where you're just as likely to pick a Pro Bowl player in the second and third round as you are in the first round.

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