Giving Away Julio Lugo

When the Red Sox signed Julio Lugo to a four-year, 36 million dollar contract in winter 2006, Theo Epstein assumed he was getting the player who hit .284/.348/.405 over the previous season. Two and a half seasons and more than 20 million later, Lugo is on the outs in Boston. Reports have Boston willing to eat the contract and take on a fringe prospect in exchange for the roster spot. That’s quite the fall from grace for someone who looked like the cream of the crop not long ago.

Lugo has actually hit better this season than in his other two seasons with Boston. That’s not saying much, and his career line with Boston is still .251/.319/.346. Defensively, Lugo hasn’t been much better in Boston, posting UZR/150 of 4.3, -2.6, and -43.2. Okay, obviously the last one is due to an extremely small sample size; if you assume he’s more like -10 than -43, you get the picture of a below average defensive shortstop, but hardly the worst in the majors.

What happened to him? His ISO has sat well below .100 the past two seasons after never touching .105 or lower the rest of his major league career. His walk rates are still quite solid, same with his strikeout rates. His BABIP hit a rough spell in 2007 but has since bounced back fine. He hit a lot of grounders last season, and now he’s hitting a lot more fliners. Lugo’s tendency to hit a home run has all but vanished. He still makes contact, doesn’t swing out of zone, and he’s seeing fewer balls in the zone.

The only thing that makes sense is that Lugo’s physical skills have decayed. He is a shortstop in his mid-30s, but he’s also hovering around replacement level. ZiPS projects Lugo to hit league average, and depending on where he plays on defense, he shouldn’t be that poor. Maybe Lugo’s body has decided enough is enough, or he really misses playing with his brother (Ruddy Lugo was his teammate during his time in Tampa Bay) or he simply doesn’t feel comfortable in Boston and never did.

If Boston is covering most of the salary and willing to take back just about anything to clear the roster spot, teams have done a lot worse than taking on Lugo and winding up with an average bat and probably below average glove at either middle infield position.




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46 Responses to “Giving Away Julio Lugo”

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  1. You tell ‘em, R.J. Lugo still has value! I promise! I don’t just desperately want him to be traded out of town so I can forget about the last few years!

    …okay, so I’m lying. Still, maybe it will work out better for someone else. It can’t possibly go worse.

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  2. Judy says:

    He’s looked like he’s playing SS in slow motion, almost like you’d expect to see if you just had a backup catcher play SS in an emergency.

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  3. Joe R says:

    Lugo is NOT an “average glove” anymore by any stretch of the imagination.

    Whoever takes him on should teach him a corner OF spot. He can still play, but at SS, he’s a horrible combonation of lack of range and glove of stone. Usually you can handle one or the other (see Jeter, Derek), but not both.

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    • alskor says:

      Hmm… I dont think anyone called him an “average glove.” The article specifically assumes he’s a -10 UZR fielder.

      “…you get the picture of a below average defensive shortstop…”

      Not sure where youre getting this “average glove” thing from…

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      • Greg says:

        I think that the horrid UZR from this season MAY be a result of small sample size, but it also is very likely explained by his knee ailment. He has looked much slower defensively this year, even putting aside the fact that he has been incredibly rusty. The Julio Lugo of 2009 is not really even the same as the one of 2008, unless he regains his health. You also shouldn’t expect his normal level of speed.

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      • alskor says:

        He also suffered from irregular playing time.

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  4. Steve C says:

    Gun to your head, who would you rather have holding down SS, Betancourt or Lugo?

    I’d take Sandoval personally.

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    • Joe R says:

      haha

      Well are we talking overall, or just defensively?

      Overall, I’d take Lugo’s average offensive production and horrendous level of butchering over Yuniesky’s all around badness. But Lugo is absolutely fried defensively.

      There is a reason why a AAAA level 3rd baseman beat him out of the job.

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      • Joe R says:

        To be fair, one who’s suddenly become a good defender that routinely guns down guys at first on balls that should be infield hits.

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      • alskor says:

        Lugo is bad defensively, but I dont know about “fried.”

        He’s still coming back from offseason knee surgery that has badly limited his range. He’s bad anyway, don’t get me wrong – but there’s some reason to believe he might come back a little there.

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    • Judy says:

      I tried that game on another site a few days ago, and no one wanted to play.

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  5. JH says:

    One possible explanation for the quicker-than-expected decline would be that he’s older than 34. It was much, much easier to falsify records back when Lugo was signed out of the D.R.

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    • BillG says:

      To me, the whole player age problem is as bad or worse than steroids. I’m surprised the media hasn’t made a bigger deal out of Vlad Guerrero lying about his age.

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    • puck says:

      Isn’t his knee injury the most likely cause of his physical decline?

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    • JH says:

      It depends what you mean by “bad.” There are bad actors in the process to be sure, but they’re not the players. I have a lot of sympathy for a 19-year-old Dominican kid who’s told by a regional buscon that nobody will sign him unless he uses his little brother’s birth certificate and claims he’s 16. That process has repeated itself hundreds-thousands of times.

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    • ecl1958 says:

      Lugo wasn’t signed out of the DR! He moved to the U.S. at age 13. Also, he won’t turn 34 until November.

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      • JH says:

        That doesn’t shield players from age discrepancies, particularly guys of that generation. It makes it less likely for sure, but it’s far from a certainty.

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  6. Erik Manning says:

    He’s better than Yuniesky Betancourt, and will be cheaper. That’s not saying much, but I guess that’s something.

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    • Joe R says:

      If someone like the Twins think he could play a decent 2B, that’s a possibility.

      Probably not too awesome to sign a defensive liability to try him out at 2nd behind a pitching staff that pitches to contact.

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  7. H says:

    The Phillies should take him as a right-handed hitting upgrade over Eric Bruntlett. With Mayberry on the roster, Bruntlett is no longer needed as a late inning defensive replacement and Lugo should be able to get by when Jimmy or Chase needed a day off.

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    • Bill says:

      I really doubt the Phillies would pick up that contract.

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      • Judy says:

        Nobody’s taking the contract, the Sox probably just want to do this as quickly and painlessly as possible, for his sake as much as anything.

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      • Joe R says:

        Sox will probably eat almost, if not all, of the contract.
        They’re willing to spend $13,000,000 for a freed up roster spot, essentially.

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  8. H says:

    Need, not needed…tense fail.

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  9. Seth says:

    I agree with the second basemen idea. Obviously his range won’t improve over there but at least the throw will be easier for him.

    The fact that he is an average hitting shortstop who doesn’t swing at pitches out of the zone means that he definitely has some value, even if its for a non-playoff contending team. I’m actually surprised no one has jumped on this yet, seems like the Sox are so desperate someone is going to steal him.

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  10. Dirty Water says:

    Lugo batted 321/.356/.495 (109 AB) @ Fenway for the three years prior to Theo giving him gobs of cash. That, along with solid defense and the newly created hole in the Sox organization because they just traded H Ramirez away, is why he got paid.

    Actually, considering that, Lugo is as big a bust as they come. Not only has he sucked but he may have cost the Sox the aforementioned Ramirez. The thinking could well have been: Beckett, Lowell and the FA Lugo for Ramirez and two solid pitching prospects.

    Kinda worked, kinda didn’t.

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    • Jim says:

      “That, along with solid defense and the newly created hole in the Sox organization because they just traded H Ramirez away, is why he got paid.”

      Well, the idea that it was a “newly created hole” is bunk, sorry.

      Unless you count a year going by and it still being a “new” hole–the big trade with Florida actually happened a full year before–in November of 2005(and it was Beckett, Lowell, and Guillermo Mota to the Red Sox in exchange for Hanley Ramirez, the now apparently injured-riddled Anibal Sanchez, and 2 other minor league players).

      Lugo was signed in December of 2006(during the 2006-07 offseason). So, the Red Sox must have used someone else at SS during the 2006 season, right?

      Right! Alex Gonzalez(the one who came up with the Marlins) had just hit free agency and was signed to a 1-year (non-guaranteed) contract. He put up a line of .255/.299/.397 for an OPS of .696. In the field, he put up a UZR of 11.8(UZR/150 was at 16.9). So, he was a solid, if not spectacular shortstop for 1 season…and he walked after his 1-year contract was up, signing with the Cincinnati Reds.

      And the Red Sox, meanwhile, went looking for a new shortstop, and saw the nice shiny stats that Julio Lugo had put up in stints with both the Rays and Dodgers(to whom he was traded to in July of 2006 for Joel Guzman and another minor leaguer).

      Unfortunately, they must have been looking more at the first half of 2006 while Lugo was still with the Rays, during which he .308/.373/.498 in 289 AB. He fell off a cliff after the trade to the Dodgers, hitting .219/.278/.267 in 146 AB(was he injured? I don’t recall now.)

      So, onto 2007. In 2007, Alex Gonzalez put up a .272/.325/.468 line, with a 3.7(5.9 UZR/150) in 103 games, while Lugo put up a .237/.294/.349 line in 147 games, with a 3.3 UZR(4.3 UZR/150).

      Gonzalez made $3.5 million in 2007 as part of the first year of a 3-year deal with the Reds(with a 4th option year), while Lugo made $8 million in 2007 as part of the first year of a 4-year deal with the Red Sox(with a 5th option year).

      Gonzalez makes a total of $14 million over the 3 years of his contract(with a $6 million option for 2010)–he did miss all of 2008, however, with an injury. Meanwhile, Lugo makes a total of $36 million over the 4 years of his contract(with a $9 million vesting option for 2011).

      So, there was a hole to be filled post Hanley Ramirez trade, but 3 guesses as to whom the Red Sox should have signed to fill the hole at the end of 2006? The first 2 guesses don’t count. ;)

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      • Joe R says:

        I don’t care how good defensively Gonzalez is, no big market team should lock up anyone long term post .299 OBP season. Just because he’s been better than Lugo doesn’t mean the Sox “should’ve” signed him. Then we’d just be bitching about the all glove no bat SS instead of the decent bat no glove one.

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      • Judy says:

        Nothing makes Reds fans laugh harder than Red Sox fans pining away for the ghost of Alex Gonzalez.

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      • Joe R says:

        I would probably approve of something like Justin Masterson and Jed Lowrie for Freddy Sanchez.

        Undo that bad trade from years ago and (finally) fix our SS situation. Green’s actually been a good player, but he’d be better served (and better serve the Sox) as the utility infielder. Give us a postseason (barring a collapse) lineup of:

        C: Varitek
        1B: Youkilis (though I think Lowell should move here at this point)
        2B: Pedroia
        3B: Lowell (see above)
        SS: Sanchez
        LF: Bay
        CF: Ellsbury (get to watch him take some Juan Pierre routes to fly balls and liners in the postseason, yay!)
        RF: Drew (once again, I would not be opposed to an Ellsbury/Drew position swap)
        DH: Ortiz (will never be 06/07 Ortiz, I’ll take 03 though)
        _________________
        Green
        Baldelli
        Kottaras

        Some combo of Bailey, Kotsay, and someone else. Truthfully I’d love to see Josh Reddick get a shot at some playing time in September, since Bailey’s (arguably, small sample size alert) a better hitter at this stage than Kotsay. If Reddick can play, it allows the Sox to go with him and Bailey rather than split the difference on defense and offense with Kotsay.

        Yeah, close to 5 pm, killed time, everyone wins here with my giant, unfun for everyone post.

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  11. DMC says:

    “Kinda worked, kinda didn’t.” It absolutely worked. Regardless of how phenomenally talented Hanley Ramirez is, the Red Sox owe their 2007 World Series title almost entirely to Beckett. Beckett’s dominating performances in that postseason – most glaringly Game 5 at Cleveland facing elimination – carried that team to the title (special thanks to Colorado for rolling over like St. Louis did in 2004). The notion of whether they would win a championship (or championships) with Hanley is far too speculative to assign it value vs the championship that was won mainly due to the efforts of Beckett. (Disclaimer: I am a Yankee fan, but one who follows (ruefully, these days) the Red Sox just about as closely.)

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  12. PhillyPhantastico says:

    As a Phils Phan, i almost choked at seeing “Lugo” and “Phillies” in the same post. Please keep that garbage away. We have the AAA equivalent in Jason Donald provided he gets healthy.

    As far as Lugo’s decline, maybe some people who get paid simply get fat. Less time in the gym, at practice, etc.

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  13. Ace says:

    The Giants could sure use him as a cheap upgrade at 2b.

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    • rkarp says:

      the problem with moving Lugo around the infiels or to a croner of spot is that he is not willing to play anyweher other than SS. He made a big stick in LA, and the Sox have not attempted to play him at 3B or 2B…even in the preseason

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  14. Juke Early says:

    There they go again–the Greatest Wannabe Team in sports, ready to cut loose another used up player. Just like a 5 year old leaving that old toy out in the rain. BTW isn’t the Lugo a car?

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  15. Ryan M says:

    I thought this was mostly about Lugo being completely unwilling to play any position besides SS. His worst years (pre-Bosox) were the second half of 2006 with the Dodgers and his last season he played with the Astros, both years because he was asked to play at positions besides SS. If you feel that way and can’t play the position anymore, how useful is that? If, while Lowrie was out, he was willing to shift to 2B and Pedroia shifts to SS (as he played in the minor leagues and was hardly terrible at it), we might not be having this conversation.

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  16. Adam says:

    If Lugo does get DFA’d, that makes the Yuniesky Betancourt trade somehow even less defensible.

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    • Judy says:

      I mentioned it at the time, it was already obvious when the Royals traded for Betancourt that Lugo would be DFA’d in about a week.

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    • Joe R says:

      KC’s front office should be Exhibit A on How Not To Run a Professional Sports Franchise.

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  17. cpebbles says:

    So, rumor is he was traded to STL for Chris Duncan. Any Red Sox followers heard anything?

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