Healthy or Not, Mike Lowell’s Role Won’t Be Defined For 2010

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October 20, 2009

Healthy or Not, Mike Lowell's Role Won't Be Defined For 2010 Mike Lowell is at a strange crossroads in his baseball career. At the age of 35, he can still hit and play a mean third base. But it seems that the Red Sox keep threatening to phase him out of their future plans.

It hasn't happened yet.

At this time a year ago, the Angels had just been eliminated from the ALDS by the Red Sox. As Boston's starting third baseman, Lowell went 0-for-8 with three strikeouts and a walk in that series. Then-Angel Mark Teixeira, meanwhile, put up a 1.017 OPS and scored four runs in the losing effort.

A month later, another race was on between the two teams as they jousted for the upper hand in contract negotiations for Teixeira. In the end, they both lost as the first baseman blew off both teams to take the juicier salary that only the Yankees could, and did offer.

This past July, the Red Sox went after another big bat in Victor Martinez. This time, they got their man. And with Martinez able to play first base, that meant the occasional start at third for Kevin Youkilis.

Both moves — the Teixeira signing that never happened and the Martinez trade that did — were attempts at scaling back Mike Lowell's presence in the Red Sox' lineup. On paper, such a move would make a lot of sense. The aging Lowell comes with constant questions about his hampered hip, making it difficult to rely on him over the long haul.

As this offseason gets underway, one has to wonder whether Lowell's days in Boston — as an everyday starter at least — are numbered.

The irony of this scenario is that when we last saw Lowell on the field in a Red Sox uniform, he looked great physically. At the plate in the ALDS, he was nothing special, going 2-for-10 with two singles and a walk. At third base however, he moved beautifully and made several nice plays, which is no surprise to Red Sox fans because when healthy, the Gold Glover is a formidable defender at the hot corner.

It's obvious that Lowell still knows how to swing the stick. He hit .290 and slugged 17 homers and 29 doubles this season despite missing a lot of at-bats.

So why the rush to push Lowell out?

Inevitably, we're going to hear the buzz again this winter. Adrian Gonzalez headlines the list of those available on the trading block this offseason, while the free-agent market includes guys like Troy Glaus and Chone Figgins who could slide directly into Lowell's spot at third base.

Lowell still has one more year left in Boston, and that's a guarantee. When he signed an extension with the Red Sox on Nov. 19, 2007, his value was at its absolute peak. He had just won a World Series MVP with the Red Sox and he cashed in big time. The Sox showered him with three-years, $37.5 million and a no-trade clause. Another thing to keep in mind is that if the Red Sox re-sign him beyond 2010, he'll begin 2011 as a sixth-year member of the Red Sox, giving him 10-5 status and automatic no-trade status.

That $12 million Lowell will earn in 2010 is a sunk cost. The Red Sox are paying him regardless of his role on this team — whether he's an everyday starter or a veteran bat off the bench. Assuming Youkilis and Martinez are still healthy and mashing at an All-Star level, any kind of high-profile acquisition like Gonzalez or Figgins would all but guarantee Lowell's seat in the dugout.

Lowell has been a great player in Boston, and if he's healthy and able to play, it would be great to see him do so. But as we enter this offseason with the Sox likely looking to make a move, Lowell is the one regular starter whose future appears the most in doubt.

Boston might gain a big bat this winter, but it might also lose Mike Lowell in the process. If he's not on the Sox' lineup card come Opening Day, he'll certainly be missed.

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