Red Sox Newcomer Adrian Beltre Represents Changing of the Guard at Third Base The Red Sox will break camp in a month with 25 players heading north to Boston. We begin a daily look at each position on the club, from the projected starters to their backups. Our latest installment examines third base.

The Situation: Most teams would welcome the opportunity to choose between two Gold Glove-winning third basemen. In Boston it has turned into a bit of a mess.

Adrian Beltre is the starter. But the fact that Mike Lowell, the Red Sox’ MVP in the 2007 World Series and a glue guy in the clubhouse, is still in a Boston uniform and itching to play every day has lent a bit of drama into an otherwise standard spring training.

What everyone wants to see before officially ending Lowell’s reign as the Sox’ everyday third baseman is how his ailing hip and surgically repaired right thumb respond to play this spring. That goes for team officials, who may still be looking to ship the 36-year-old.

Lowell has said he is in better shape than a year ago at this time, but he acknowledges the reality of the situation.

“I’m pretty confident I’m going to be in the big leagues this year somewhere. And I still view that as a privilege,” Lowell said when he addressed the media late last month. “No one needs to feel sorry for me.”

Some did last year, when the hip injury robbed Lowell of his range and turned a stellar defensive third baseman into one that the Sox attempted to trade this offseason. And even after a swap with Texas was nullified when Lowell failed a physical, Beltre was still brought into the fold.

That said it all, and it was hard to argue with an organization bent on preventing runs from being scored.

According to the ultra-trendy UZR ratings, a metric all the rage at measuring defensive prowess, Beltre was the second-best defensive third baseman among all players who played at least an inning at the position in the American League in 2008. Lowell was third. In 2009, Beltre was third. Lowell was 74th.

Beltre is younger, healthier and considered by some to the best in the business with the glove. His offense suffered last year due to shoulder and groin injuries, but he annually walloped while away from spacious Safeco Field. The 30-year-old is a dead pull hitter who will leave a few dents in the Green Monster.

Sort of like Mike Lowell used to do.

Other options: If Lowell is not traded and both break camp with the club then the Sox have loads of depth at the position. Bill Hall has played 266 career games at the position and Jed Lowrie has been a capable fill-in in the hot corner.

There are no sure things at the minor league level. Will Middlebrooks, 21, is a tall, athletic third baseman who spent all of 2009 at Class A Greenville but he’s not on the radar yet.

If all else fails: The luxury of having Kevin Youkilis on the roster opens up a host of possibilities in the event that neither Beltre nor Lowell pan out this season. The issue then becomes finding a first baseman, but all the talk of putting Lowell in that spot is a bit scary.

Lowell has never played a single inning at first base in his career and the value of defense at that position should not be overlooked, despite its reputation as a dumping ground for over-the-hill players. Just look at what Mark Teixeira’s glove did for the Yankees last year.

Should an emergency situation arise, expect to hear Adrian Gonzalez’s name a bit more.

*** will be previewing
the 2010 Red Sox by position.

March 8: Left field