Tuesday, February 23, 2010
Updated: February 25, 11:31 AM ET
Mike Lowell stuck in limbo
By Gordon Edes
FORT MYERS, Fla. -- The reality is, nothing has changed.
The Boston Red Sox want to move Mike Lowell. Lowell wants to be moved, to a place where he will play.
It's awkward for everyone involved. It's a distraction -- it can't be anything but. It is a situation that begs a resolution before April 4.
For all of the grace and humor and perspective Lowell displayed while discussing his plight -- "Nobody needs to feel sorry for me in life," he said -- there is no going back. If there was, Lowell would have heard at least a hint of that when he met with general manager Theo Epstein and manager Terry Francona on Wednesday morning.
Instead, this was what Lowell said about their face-to-face session:
"It was very status quo," he said, "We basically could have gone without the meeting and I think I pretty much knew where they stood and they knew the way I felt."
The suggestion that Lowell would have value to the Red Sox in a reserve role doesn't appear to have a place either in the Boston blueprint or the Lowell mindset.
"I've never been approached to say that's in their plans," Lowell said. "But like I said, if I'm definitely healthier at this point than last year, I don't know why I should have less at-bats."
Surely, if there was a thought of Lowell being a safety net/right-handed alternative to David Ortiz at DH, someone might have mentioned that to the Red Sox third baseman. But it hasn't come in play.
The Red Sox traded Lowell once, a deal to Texas in December that was voided because he needed thumb surgery. They almost certainly will trade him again, and while it will take some time for the market to form -- he has to show he is healthy first, and there may have to be casualties among teams that thought their rosters were set -- there will be teams interested in a right-handed hitter still capable of hitting 20 home runs and driving in 80 runs.
Make no mistake: Barring the unforeseen, a Lowell trade is coming. Anyone suggesting otherwise at this stage is probably posturing.
"If I was on the trading block before," Lowell said, "I can't imagine that all of a sudden I'm not now. I think my health is obviously something I need to show, not only the Red Sox but every other team. If that opens the door to something else, I'll go wherever I go, or stay wherever I stay."
Lowell, who underwent thumb surgery right around Christmas, has already been swinging off a tee. He believes that if he had to, he could play in the exhibition opener, which is in a week. He'll probably play it cautiously and push back playing in games for a few days. His surgically repaired hip, he says, is "about 10 times stronger" than it was a year ago.
That is not to say the hip is the way it was before a degenerative condition left him with bone on bone. Lowell believes he will regain some of the explosive first step that made him so skilled at reaching balls to his left, but admits that he doesn't know how the hip will stand up to the pounding of a full season.
Obviously, the Red Sox are not believers that the restoration process will last long. Otherwise, they would not have engineered Lowell's trade to Texas, even before they signed free agent Adrian Beltre.
Lowell absolves the new guy of any responsibility.
"I think he has an opportunity to make $10 million," said Lowell, who is due to be paid $12 million. "I don't really think he's worried about it. If I'm him, I don't not sign on a team because of the other guy. Especially if the organization tells him you're going to play. I think he made it clear that Theo told him that whether he signed or not, I was not going to play third. I think that makes it a little easier for that guy."
Seeing wasn't believing, he said.
"I didn't need to see him to know what my status was," Lowell said. "I think the writing was on the wall, basically the first day of the winter meetings."
Could the Red Sox change course? Sure, it can't be ruled out entirely. The Sox might be the ones to have a front-liner go down in March. Lowell said that's not something for him to contemplate.
"I think I'm pretty intelligent in the sense that there's no real playing time for me here, barring a major injury, and I'm not really in the business of hoping somebody gets hurt just so I can get at-bats," he said.
And it's a wasted exercise, he said, for him to gauge where this falls on the insult scale.
"I don't think it matters what I feel about that," he said. "I know they're trying to go in a direction where they think the team is better. The player always takes a back seat to those decisions. I don't really feel like I win out in any way saying, 'What a great decision that was, or this was a poor decision.'"
On Wednesday, the team takes the field, weather permitting (rain is forecast) for its first full-squad workout. For Lowell, it will be the start of tryout camp. He will play third, he will play some first, he will swing the bat, he will think about which teams need someone like him. The rest of it is out of his control.
"I can't say, 'Hey, I want to stay,' 'Hey, I want to play' or 'Hey, I want to go.' None of those three things are really a factor, so I leave it to those people who make those decisions and you guys [the media] will question if it's a good decision or not."
Lowell is aware that he won over many fans with his commitment and excellence in four years in the Fens, and many believe he is getting shafted here. He appreciates the support. "I love the fans," he said.
But that support, he believes, is conditional.
"I think they'll be more emotional if Adrian Beltre starts off slow," he said, "and they'll be much less emotional if Adrian Beltre starts off hot. That's kind of the way it goes."
Beltre is here. The page has been turned. Call this Lowell's last stand.
Gordon Edes is ESPNBoston.com's Red Sox reporter. He covered the Red Sox for 12 years and has reported on baseball for 25 years. Ask a question for his next mailbag here.