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Julio Lugo: Is He Our Answer?

[editor's note, by Randy Booth] Happy holidays, everyone! I hope everyone has a safe and joyous holiday. Don't get too stressed out. Here's some Christmas-day reading for your enjoyment.

With the Red Sox staring at a gaping hole in the middle of their infield, the name Julio Lugo has been thrown around to fill the void.

The latest rumor is that the Red Sox will trade eager-to-leave starting pitcher David Wells to the Dodgers in exchange for prospects. Then those prospects received will be traded to the Devil Rays for Lugo.

I'll nick this one right where it stands, because I don't think anyone wants Lugo to be our starting shortstop come 2006.

My first reason not to want Lugo is the fact that he is an Edgar Renteria 2005 clone while in the field. He committed 24 errors in 2005 with the D-Rays, and has never had less than 20 in a full-season. Compared to other MLB shortstops in 2005, only Renteria (30), Russ Adams (26), and Angel Berroa (25) had more errors. Even Christian Guzman (15), the worst free-agent signing for the 2005 season, had a better season defensively.

The errors may not be a problem for most teams as desperate as the Red Sox, but it's an odd acquisition compared their recent transactions. It's obvious the Red Sox are trying to improve their defense with additions like Mike Lowell and Mark Loretta, both Gold Glovers.

So why add Lugo when you just traded Renteria? Renteria's biggest problem (his offense was pretty good, just not what we expected) was obviously his defense, so we know the reason he was traded in the first place. If we trade for Lugo, then all we are really doing, based off 2005 numbers, is subtracting six errors.

The Red Sox may be optimistic and think Lugo could improve his fielding in a transition from Florida to Boston, but there is no evidence to back that thinking up. He has never had a good season defensively, so there is no reason to think that he'll improve drastically at the age of 30.

Some people may think that we can sacrifice the defense at shortstop with the additions of Lowell and Loretta. But the fact remains that we really weren't weak in the fielding department at those positions. Only 13 errors were compiled at third base in 2005, and 14 for second base. Lowell had six all of last season, while Loretta also had six. That's a 21-error difference, but you need to figure Lowell and Loretta won't play every game, and, if they did, the errors would be higher.

We're better with Lowell and Loretta, but the difference isn't huge. That's why I think it's vital to grab a defensive-minded shortstop so we can really cut errors out of the equation.

My dream scenario, that is actually do-able at this point in time, would be trading for Angels' shortstop Orlando Cabrera, the man at the helm during the 2004 World Series. Cabrera won a Gold Glove this year for committing only seven errors, and has consistently been good over the years with the exception of one year, 2002, in which he faulted 29 times. Still, though, that's better than Renteria in 2005.

Other than Cabrera, the market is slim for slick-fielding shortstops. Rich Aurilia has been solid throughout his career, but will start the season at the age of 34. Royce Clayton has actually become better defensively over the past few seasons, but will be an aging 36-years old at the start of 2006. Alex Gonzalez has been consistent with 16 errors for the past three seasons, but that may not be good enough. Ramon Martinez is scouted as to having strong skills out in the field, but has never been tested over a 162-game season.

Pokey Reese is the final option on the free-agent market, and may be the best. Reese's worst defensive season was in 1997 as a rookie with the Reds when he committed 15 errors. Between 2002 and 2004, he averaged seven errors each season. He is a two-time Gold Glover, in 1999 and 2000. His weaknesses are his proneness to injury and his weak-bat. But the plus side is that Red Sox Nation loves Reese, and would welcome him back with open-arms.

We're going to need a good defensive shortstop in 2006, and most-likely that isn't Lugo. Our starting shortstop now is unknown, but hopefully we will have a good idea who that is by March.