The Orioles have acquired Julio Lugo from the Cardinals in return for a Player to be Named Later, but that player might as well be Robert Andino, who the front office appears to have given up for the aging shortstop. Andino is out of minor league options, and after making strides last year defensively may not stay with the organization. Lugo, for his part, has had a solid if unspectacular career, with a career .271 average and an above average reputation as a fielder. At the age of 35, he had gradually diminished into a role player with the Red Sox and Cardinals, the former of which will be on the hook for the vast majority of his $9 million salary for this season. He is expected to be paid the veteran minimum and act as the utility infielder backing up shortstop and second base. But there is something uncomfortable about this deal.
Many of you who read my posts will recognize (or criticize) me as someone who has followed MacPhail unto the breach in defending his plan for revitalizing this organization. The way he has brought in young talent, leveraged aging stars to fill holes on the team, and given hope to the organization has been spectacular. But this move baffles me. In backing up two key defensive positions one shouldn’t rely on 35 year old legs- isn’t that why Miguel Tejada is playing third? He had 11 errors last season, which isn’t necessarily bad, but he does not have the range he used to at the position. Yes, his bat is better than Andino’s, that is hard to deny. Lugo hit .280 in 2009 with the Sox and Cards, but he hasn’t had a particularly great year since 2006, though his production has steadily been in the .260-.285 range with small RBI numbers. Andino, the likely casualty of this move, will take his .222 average and walk, despite the progress he has made since joining the team. He performed admirably defensively in Izturis’ absence during last season and had done enough in my opinion to stay with the club. Besides, there is only upside in the 25-year old. There is only downside in his 35-year old replacement.
This actually might say more about Justin Turner than anyone else, however. Turner was expected to battle Andino for the utility infielder spot, and perhaps the organization saw enough potential in him that they didn’t need two long-term solutions at the position. Like Atkins for Snyder or Tejada for Bell, perhaps Lugo is a one-year stopgap for this team as they wait for Turner to be ready. That would make Andino expendable and make it worth it to take the player who could help the team win now. Lugo also comes with a knowledge of the AL East, having played with Boston and Tampa Bay in recent years.
In the end however, to me the benefits do not outweigh the risks. Taking a slight bump in average and stolen bases for a pair of 35 year old legs at the most critical and athletic (debatable) position in the game to me sounds like an act of desperation, especially when one wonders how Lugo will take to being a role player on a bad team. Cesar Izturis isn’t known as a great hitter- if he slumps at the plate, will Trembley be switching between the two during the season? That would be a recipe for disaster as far as defensive chemistry is concerned. I trust the organization in general, but this smells bad to me.