Source: BoSox willing to pay salary if Lugo is dealt

The Red Sox, facing a roster bind as they prepare for the returns of shortstop Jed Lowrie and third baseman Mike Lowell, have informed teams that they are willing to assume virtually all of shortstop Julio Lugo’s remaining salary in a trade, according to a major-league source.

While another source told FOXSports.com earlier Thursday that the Sox were “desperately” trying to move Lugo, the second source offered a different view.

The Red Sox, he said, recognize that Lugo is a “sunk cost,” and would accept a fringe prospect for him in return. In other words, they are willing to assume the same financial burden that they would if they released him.

A release could be the ultimate outcome. The Red Sox are likely to designate Lugo for assignment if they are unable to trade him once Lowrie returns.

The problem with Lugo’s trade value — besides his erratic defense since returning from knee surgery — is his contract. Lugo, 33, is owed the remainder of his $9 million salary this season, plus $9 million next season. The Sox have been trying to move him since last off-season.

Manager Terry Francona told WEEI Radio in Boston that Lowell is expected back from his hip strain on Friday and Saturday, while Lowrie is set to return from wrist surgery on Saturday. The Red Sox also need to clear a roster spot for right-hander Clay Buchholz, who is scheduled to make his first start of 2009 on Friday night.

The Sox can demote first baseman Aaron Bates to clear a spot for Buchholz, then demote Buchholz to clear a spot for Lowell or Lowrie. But under virtually every scenario, Lugo would be the odd man out.

Lugo is batting .284 with a .352 on-base percentage in 123 plate appearances, but the Sox are 11-16 when he starts at shortstop, compared to 42-15 with Nick Green. A number of clubs want to acquire a young shortstop. But few teams, if any, are looking for an expensive veteran.