Entering the 2010 spring training, many Red Sox fans feared that the Mike Lowell situation would be stealing the headlines, causing turmoil and creating distractions in Fort Myers all the way up to Opening Day.
But now, already a few weeks into their preseason, things seem pretty calm for both parties involved in this topsy-turvy scenario. But how will this relationship between Lowell and the local nine end? If at all?
To nobody's surprise, the savvy veteran Lowell has taken the situation in stride, and in doing so is only helping his stock. Plus, he isn't ready to take a bench spot and wants to remain a starter in this league despite his age and history of injuries, so it's not like the Red Sox are trying to unload damaged goods.
"I'm not going to accept preparing for a reserve role when I feel like
my capabilities are playing a bigger role," he said. "And if that
bigger role takes me to another team — well, you know, I'm a
competitor. I like to play every day. I'm miserable on the bench. It's
not been presented to me as an option, and up to this point, it's not
in my mind set."
The third baseman told NESN's Tom Caron and Peter Gammons in February that he's content with being dealt because that would mean he would get playing time the proper way. The only way he would get playing time in Boston would be because of an injury to Adrian Beltre, David Ortiz or Kevin Youkilis.
"There's no space [in the lineup], and that's the reality that I understand," he added. "The only way for me to get at-bats on this team is if someone gets hurt. I'm not really rooting for my teammates to get hurt. I don't want someone's negative to bring a positive to me. … I don't think that's the right way to go about things."
Given the state of the Red Sox roster, it appears as though the only thing Theo Epstein and manager Terry Francona can do with Lowell is discard him and his $12 million contract. Boston's bench is all but officially accounted for with Bill Hall, Jeremy Hermida and Jason Varitek. Also, with Jed Lowrie — pending his health — Boston has as the option of keeping a switch-hitting, younger, faster and more versatile infielder.
Lowell and the Red Sox are doing all they can to quietly sell his goods. He admits to being in top health and is even playing a little first base — a position he has yet to take in any of the 12,677 2/3 career innings played in his major league career. This also means that even if outsiders won't bite on Lowell this preseason, the worse-case scenario is that the Red Sox will have an aging and expensive backup designated hitter/corner infielder as well as right-handed power off the bench.
Whether or not Lowell is donning the bold red "B" on April 4, Epstein and the Boston brass must find a way to keep things positive for both the 12-year veteran and the rest of this Red Sox clubhouse. The odds of Epstein keeping Lowell are slim and the team is — or at least was — desperate to get rid of him, as evidenced by the failed trade with Texas. But how can the club create a smooth takeoff for such a well-liked and apparently still-capable member of the team?
Maybe the "botched" deal in December was a good thing for the morale of this franchise, as it softened the notion of cutting ties with such a stand-up teammate.
Still, if and when the Red Sox do lose Lowell this preseason, it's going to upset many fans, who have appreciated his hard work, demeanor and solid bat since arriving in 2006. But if Epstein gets a promising prospect or simply a bag of $9 million baseballs in exchange, the team will still be achieving its main goal: to finally address the 800-pound gorilla in the room. As the team waits a proper suitor to come along and swoop up his goods, Red Sox Nation is ready to say goodbye to a tremendous teammate and player, and both Lowell and the club have handled it like true professionals.
From now until Opening Day, NESN.com will run down 25 things that need to happen for the Red Sox to win the World Series.
March 16: Jacoby Ellsbury makes a quick transition to left field.