Red Sox Just Might Need Mike Lowell on Opening Day Roster

by NESN Staff

February 25, 2010

Red Sox Just Might Need Mike Lowell on Opening Day Roster When you have a team that seems to win 95 games every year, you don?t come to spring training with many spots open on the roster.

So it is with the 2010 Red Sox. The starting lineup is set with this team. The bullpen may have one spot available. Heck, even the starting rotation has too many pitchers ready to go (stop me if you?ve heard this one before, Bronson Arroyo).

At the first day of full-team workouts yesterday, Red Sox management talked a lot about the positional depth of this club. Newcomers like Jeremy Hermida and Bill Hall would start on many other teams, but will be reserve players in Boston. Jason Varitek, despite his ongoing offensive struggles, has been a starter for more than a decade. Now, he?ll be backing up Victor Martinez for catching duties.

That?s three players on the bench. Add nine starters (eight positions in the field and the DH) and you?ve got 12 position players on the squad. Terry Francona likes to have 12 pitchers — in today?s American League, you have to have 12 pitchers — so that gives us 24 players filling out the 25-man roster.  Which means there is one spot up for grabs at this camp.

Don?t be surprised if Mike Lowell has that spot to start the season.

It has been an accepted truth that Lowell will be wearing a different uniform when the Red Sox take the field April 4 to open the season against the Yankees. Adrian Beltre is the everyday third baseman. Kevin Youkilis is the everyday first baseman. Those are the two positions Lowell can play at this point in his career.

Obviously, it would be best for the Red Sox to move a hitter of Lowell?s stature to another team, getting a prospect of some sort in return. They have proven they aren?t afraid to eat a large portion of his salary (see Renteria, Edgar or Lugo, Julio). No point in having a guy with a career .811 OPS, a guy with back-to-back 17 home run seasons on the bench, right?

Actually, there is. If Lowell gets traded, Jed Lowrie would probably be the 25th man on this roster. Lowrie burst into the consciousness of Red Sox Nation in 2008, when he started 49 games as a shortstop and didn?t make an error. Since that debut, he has been plagued by complications to the wrist injury he suffered that first season. Last year, he only played 32 games, hitting .147. He had three more procedures this offseason.

The Red Sox swear they haven?t given up on Lowrie, but GM Theo Epstein issued a challenge to Lowrie at the start of camp.

"We want to make sure he gets through this spring training healthy and proves that he can get through a major league season healthy as well," said Epstein.

You can?t prove you can make it through a season when you?re sitting on the bench five days a week. It would seem to make more sense to have Lowrie start the season in Pawtucket, let him play every day for a month or so and see how he?s holding up.

With Lowrie in Pawtucket for six weeks or so, Lowell can stay in Boston. His skills may be wasted on the bench, but a month out of the everyday lineup won?t set him back too far. In fact, it would give him (and his surgically repaired thumb) that much more time to recover. 

It would also give the Red Sox one heck of a right-handed bat off the bench.

A lot could happen between now and Opening Night. A Red Sox player could get hurt, giving Lowell an everyday job again. Another team could lose its third or first baseman, opening up a trade scenario sooner rather than later.

Or David Ortiz could get off to another brutal start. With Lowell in the wings, Francona would have a pretty good backup plan.

For now, those are all "ifs." The Red Sox are healthy. Most MLB teams have fully stocked rosters. Ortiz looks fit and ready to go.

So, why rush? Lowell deserves a place to play every day, but that scenario — be it here or elsewhere — might not open up until May. Starting the season with Lowell on the roster — the Red Sox' roster, that is — might just be the best thing for the team and player after all.

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