Tuesday, July 1, 2008

I Think It Is Finally and Officially Time for Jed Lowrie

It's been long enough. It is now officially Jed Lowrie time. Julio Lugo's place on the team now and moving forward should be as a backup utility infielder and pinch runner. Nothing more, but maybe something less if they choose to eat his contract and cut him next year. If they can flush $8M down the toilet with Cut Schilling this year and they flushed $4.5M on Joel Piniero last year, I would hope that they cut their losses and send Julio on his way soon enough. A poor fielding, singles hitting shortstop just is not an acceptable option for a team like the Red Sox to be putting out there everyday. I know this is hardly news, but I think now is the time that a move must be made.

So what brought this on? Haven't most people been calling for this since game 1? Why after game 85?

Well, the answer is quite simple. The Red Sox offense is currently in a place like they found themselves in for much of July through September last year where other than Dustin Pedroia, Manny, Papi, and Mike Lowell, nobody (Drew, Youkilis, Varitek, Lugo, or Crisp) could get a hit. I called it the black hole of the offense back then and Boston Dirt Dogs proclaimed them the "Automatics". The worst was the 6/7/8/9 of Drew/Varitek/Crisp/Lugo who seemingly went 0 for those three months. Anyway, I think we are about there right now except this year the group only consists of Varitek, Lugo, and Moss/Crisp. In this case, three is better than five but with no David Ortiz anchoring the lineup, Manny prone to excessive streakiness, and Jacoby Ellsbury and JD Drew coming back down to earth, the need for 1-9 production is of utmost importance.

Last year, there was a ready-made replacement for an under-performing position (CF in that case) waiting in Pawtucket in Jacoby Ellsbury and he came in and revitalized the team for September and October. (It should also be noted that Ellsbury did not immediately replace Coco as he saw a lot of September PT on account of Manny being on the DL.)

This year, the same is the case with Jed Lowrie. Last year in 87 games at Pawtucket, Ellsbury put up a decent but not mind-blowing .740 OPS which is actually right in line with the .728 that he is posting for the big club this year. Currently, after 44 games, Jed Lowrie has a .839 OPS at Pawtucket. Going solely by that metric I think you could say that Lowrie is every bit as ready to play for the big club now as Ellsbury was last year when he was summoned. Furthermore, in an admittedly limited sample size (47 ABs), Lowrie more than held his own during his brief fling with the team in April and May putting up an .816 OPS. Even with some expected regression, he should be able to out-hit Julio Lugo with relative ease.

The big question with Lowrie is not his offense though. It is whether or not he is an everyday MLB shortstop. To that I say, let's put him out there and see what happens. I've read some people who say that he is best suited to second base in the majors and I have heard some folks including ESPN's Keith Law say that he can handle shortstop on an every day basis. Obviously, shortstop is an equally important and difficult position on the field and if Lowrie struggles - whether it be with range or his arm strength - the failure could be glaring. But then again, Julio Lugo is not eliciting Pokey Reese or Alex Gonzalez flashbacks with anybody so I think it's worth the risk. Let's also remember too that Coco Crisp last year was playing world class defense in center when Jacoby came onto the scene. True, much of Jacoby's time came in left last year at the start on account of Manny's aforementioned DL stint, but let's also not forget that he supplanted Coco in the playoffs in centerfield, a move dictated entirely by offense. In short, there is a strong precedent here.

As the Red Sox offense continues to struggle to score runs - a stark reality without Papi - they do not have the liberty of allowing a portion of their lineup to degenerate into Black Hole status. At the moment, there are not any quick and easy fixes except for one which has it's own risks as mentioned above. That fix is Jed Lowrie. To me, it would make sense to bring him up and ease him into the starting shortstop role - a la Pedroia and Cora's second base platoon last April - and then turn things over to him full time come August. I do not see any other options and I do not see any marked downside. It is the right move for now and it is the right move for the future. With that in mind, let's hope that Theo hops on the phone to Pawtucket and makes the call. Something tells me if the runs continue to be tough to come by by the time they return home next week, Jed Lowrie will find himself back with the big club, and Julio will find himself on the bench.

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