The Red Sox ate about $12.75 million Friday. Surprisingly, there was no bitter aftertaste.
In announcing that the team had designated shortstop Julio Lugo for assignment, general manager Theo Epstein admitted the mistake, accepted personal responsibility and addressed the situation in pretty plain English.
“We’d be fudging the truth to say it worked out the way we envisioned,” said Epstein, while pointing out that the team did win the 2007 World Series with Lugo as its everyday shortstop. “He never played even close to the way we expected.”
The move was straightforward, insofar as any decision involving that sum of money could be. Lugo had become an expensive utility player. Nick Green was the new everyday shortstop, starting 30 of 38 games before the All-Star break. And the team needed a roster spot for infielder Jed Lowrie, now that his left wrist has healed.
“Ownership’s been consistent that we’ll do what we need to do to keep the best possible team on the field,” Epstein said.
So, that was that.
Cut the check. Shake hands. Get on with it.
Now, onto the highlights: About three hours after Epstein’s pregame remarks, Clay Buchholz took the mound at Rogers Centre. He proceeded to beat the Blue Jays, 4-1, while allowing one earned run and illustrating anew why the good of this organization far outweighs the bad.
For those of you unfamiliar with Buchholz, here’s a brief synopsis of his last three seasons: He was magnificent in 2007, including a big-league no-hitter at age 23. He struggled in 2008, which effectively cost him a spot in this year’s rotation. And he has been arguably the best Triple-A pitcher in baseball this season, going 7-2 with a 2.36 ERA at Pawtucket.
Boston’s abundance of pitching had kept Buchholz in the minors all season, but Epstein, manager Terry Francona and pitching coach John Farrell figured he deserved a one-start reward. Friday’s game, the first after the All-Star break, was a convenient time. And he looked terrific.
His fastball hummed along at 94 and 95 miles per hour, generally down in the strike zone. His changeup generated some awkward swings. His curveball victimized All-Star Aaron Hill in the fifth.
And by the way: After the game, Buchholz was dispatched to Pawtucket in order to clear a roster spot for Lowrie.
The rotation is so good, a playoff berth so probable, that the Red Sox don’t need him. At least that’s what they would tell you at the Cask’n Flagon.
“He’s a victim of our depth,” third baseman Mike Lowell said. “A lot of guys get sent down, start doing well, and they start getting complacent or frustrated. I don’t think he’s done that. I think he earned a spot to be here.
“Hopefully, all our guys are healthy in the second half. But at least we know we’ve got someone who can step in and do a good job against a good team. It’s only a positive for us, but that’s a tough pill to swallow (for him). That’s the numbers game we’re in right now.”
This being July, some might have wondered if the Red Sox wanted other teams to see just how far Buchholz had progressed since last year, for purposes of a trade. The Brewers had two scouts at the game, but the precise reasons for their visit remained elusive.
No matter. After that performance, I have a hard time imagining that this guy is going anywhere.
“So good,” Francona said of the performance. “Considering the circumstances and everything, he had poise. He had good stuff. He attacked with his fastball. He threw his changeup. He threw his breaking ball. He commanded the game. It’s really gratifying for us.”
“The starting rotation they have here right now is pretty unbelievable,” Buchholz said. “I know where I want to be, and this is definitely it. But I’ll bide some more time, go back to Pawtucket and help that team win.”
The Red Sox are heading toward the playoffs for what will be the sixth time in seven seasons, and it’s because of nights like this. They have made mistakes — Lugo (four years, $36 million) was a big one — but their talent and resources continue tipping the scales in their favor.
They’re like the stud defensive back who is faster than everyone else: They go for the big play knowing that, even if they slip, they have enough speed to cover the deep ball.
Consider what Epstein said when asked about the July 31 nonwaiver trade deadline:
“We don’t have one glaring weakness. … At the same time, there are opportunities to get better. Exactly which opportunities we pursue relates probably more to health than anything else. We want to create as much depth and redundancy as we possibly can.”
Depth and redundancy. Some teams (the Mets, for example) worry about making sure that they have nine healthy position players for every game. Others (such as the Brewers) have exactly one starting pitcher with an ERA below 4.50. And then there is Epstein, looking for “depth and redundancy” — entities that rank somewhere south of “shortstop” on the hierarchy of baseball essentials.
Lowell also returned from the disabled list on this newsy Friday, bringing more glad tidings to the Red Sox clubhouse. He went 2-for-4 at the plate, and, aside from one error, made the routine plays at third base.
Lowell reported afterward that his right hip — which has been surgically repaired, drained of fluid and received an injection to lubricate the joint within the last year — felt good. The Red Sox are sure to monitor Lowell’s workload closely and give him days off when needed.
It’s also within the realm of possibility that the Sox will trade for a corner infielder — just in case — during the next two weeks. As Buchholz demonstrated on Friday, there might be something to Theo’s Theory of Redundancy.