Aug
02

Mike Lowell and a possible return to pinstripes

By

The Yankees walked away from the trade deadline having upgraded three roster spots with Lance Berkman, Austin Kearns, and Kerry Wood, and we know they wanted to add a utility infielder as well. They can still do that through a waiver trade in August, so the door isn’t closed on replacing Ramiro Pena, who unsurprisingly was unable to maintain his career best .312 wOBA from last year (seriously, his best full-season wOBA in the minors was .303 with Double-A Trenton in 2008). What is surprising is one of the players the Yanks targeted for that reserve infielder spot: Mike Lowell.

(AP Photo/Elise Amendola)

Ken Rosenthal said yesterday that the Yanks tried to pick up the former Bomber indirectly from the Red Sox on Friday. He says it would have been a three team swap involving the Rangers, who have long had interest in Lowell as they searched for a righthanded hitting first baseman, but didn’t elaborate on any other players that would have been involved in the deal. I can’t imagine it would’ve been much. The Red Sox were aware that Lowell would have ended up in the Bronx, and the Berkman trade did not alter the Yanks’ plans at all.

This isn’t the first time the Yankees have had interest in Lowell, as I’m sure you remember. After Alex Rodriguez opted out of his contract in 2007, Lowell – that year’s World Series MVP – became an obvious target to fill that third base void. Even after A-Rod re-signed, the Yanks still had interest in Lowell as a first baseman, reportedly offering him a four year deal worth upwards of $60M. Thankfully that ended up being untrue, because it would have been a massive albatross if Lowell accepted (there would have been about $20.4M still left on said deal), assuming his hip issues were inevitable.

I know there have been several studies showing that “contract years” are largely a myth, but Lowell’s 2007 season sure looks like one hell of a salary drive. After 1,189 plate appearances of .319 wOBA ball in 2005 and 2006, he rebounded to post a .377 wOBA in ’07 with his usually stellar defense, a season worth 5.2 wins above replacement. It was the best season of Lowell’s career, surpassing his 4.6 win season back in 2004. He certainly took advantage of Fenway Park during that contract year, hitting to a .426 wOBA at home and just .330 on the road.

Lowell predictably regressed back to a .344 wOBA and 3.0 WAR in 2008, solid numbers but not what he had produced the year before. Following the season he required surgery to repair a torn labrum in his hip, though he was ready in time for Spring Training and remained productive at the plate, putting up a .346 wOBA. His defense, like we saw with A-Rod, dropped off considerably after surgery, as his UZR dropped to -10.7 because of what FanGraphs has as a 21.7 run decline in his range from 2008. A-Rod’s defense has certainly gotten better as he’s gotten further away from surgery, but Lowell really gotten a chance to show us similar improvement because he hasn’t played much.

This season, with Adrian Beltre and Kevin Youkilis having MVP caliber seasons and David Ortiz finding the Fountain of Youth in mid-May, Lowell simply hasn’t played. He hit the disabled list in June after coming to the plate just 76 times in April and May (.306 wOBA). Sporadic playing time equals sporadic results, though ZiPS rest of the season projection calls for what I think is an optimistic .338 wOBA. One thing to keep in mind is that over the last two years Lowell has a .296 wOBA away from the Green Monster (.383 at home). Even worse than the production are the nagging hip issues, which includes a pair of DL stints due to inflammation and several individual days missed.

Even going beyond the performance issues, Lowell really doesn’t fit the Yanks’ needs in the grand scheme of things. He’s not a true utility infielder because he can’t fill in at short (and less importantly, second base), so Ramiro Pena would have to remain on the roster. The Yanks would essentially be swapping out Marcus Thames (.373 wOBA vs. LHP) with Lowell (.352 wOBA vs. LHP over the last two years), sacrificing a little offense for third base insurance should A-Rod’s hip act up. Insurance with his own hip issues, mind you.

Of course, the only way the Red Sox are moving Lowell at this point is by eating basically everything left on his contract, which is about $4.22M at the moment. Considering that they’re on the hook for $11.15M still owed to Julio Lugo, Alex Gonzalez, Boof Bonser, and Billy Wagner, eating another $12M for Lowell while getting just 0.1 WAR out of him this year seems like it would be a tough pill to swallow, but at this point they have no choice. Jed Lowrie and Bill Hall will be the backup infielders once Dustin Pedroia is healthy, and a smart organization like Boston won’t sit on a dead roster spot with Lowell just to avoid eating his salary.

The Red Sox will try to trade Lowell, but chances are they’re just going to end up releasing him at some point. And that’s what Lowell wants. He wants to be able to choose his next team where he can actually play and audition himself for next year. The Rangers, long considered a perfect suitor, now have their righty first baseman in Jorge Cantu. The Yanks became a more realistic landing spot for Lowell once that trade went down. I’m not saying I want Lowell on the Yankees, but based on their history with him I would not at all be surprised if he ends up in pinstripes sometime this month.

138 Comments»

  1. Newbie says:

    Meh. I don’t think it would be smart for the Yanks to take on extra payroll for a player who has not been as good v. LHP just for a bit more roster flexibility.

  2. Tom Zig says:

    With his hip issues, is he any better than having Thames at 3rd? Personally I’d rather keep Thames.

  3. Johnny O says:

    Just out of principal, I’d rather promote Nunez or maybe even Brandon Laird? Although it would be nice having the Sawx paying $20M for someone winning the World Series with the Yanks…

  4. theyankeewarrior says:

    For the playoffs, the Yanks usually have a 5 man bench right? He could be a candidate for that spot. He could also pinch hit for Granderson if they tried to LOOGY him.

    I suppose Johnson is another candidate for that spot too.

    At worst, Lowell could give Alex a rest leading into October. And do it for the pro-rated minimum. Aka Hank’s dinner tab.

    • For the playoffs, the Yanks usually have a 5 man bench right? He could be a candidate for that spot. He could also pinch hit for Granderson if they tried to LOOGY him.

      I suppose Johnson is another candidate for that spot too.

      That’s another good point, about Johnson. Lowell would be Thames insurance/replacement, but we already have one of those (potentially) in Johnson. The problem with adding Lowell is that we can’t have both Lowell and Thames, it’s one or the other (because when we add Lowell we’d have to DFA Thames, or carry only 11 pitchers).

      I’d stand pat. Roll with the Cervelli-Peña-Thames-Kearns bench for now, and when rosters expand audition Nuñez-Miranda-Russo-Curtis + see what Nick the Stick can do. Those 9 options can probably form a solid 5-man bench.

      Kearns/Thames/Johnson is a nice three-headed PH monster.

      • theyankeewarrior says:

        Yes, DFAing Thames would ot be worth the risk of taking on Lowell at this point.

        Hopefully Johnson is ready to go by October. Not that we need him, but when Thames and Kearns start, it’s always good to have extra lefties on the bench.

        One big AB in an extra-innings, October game could be huge. And tif there is one thing NJ can do, it’s have a solid AB.

      • jsbrendog (returns) says:

        bold prediction:

        nick johnson does not take another atbat for the yankees

  5. Frank says:

    This Yanks roster is stacked with offense, even considering those players with down years (Jeter,Granderson, Berkman and even Tex and A-Rod). As long as they don’t sustain a season ending injury to 1 or more key players and the pitching holds up, thers’s no reason to replace Pena for an offensive upgrade. Hell, they’ve won in past with the likes of Andy Fox and Clay Bellinger as utility players.

    • Ghost of Scott Brosius says:

      Clay Bellinger has always been an all-time personal favorite of mine. He just epitomized the absolutely awful hitter who still stuck on a major-league roster because of his ridiculous versatility. An earlier Willie Bloomquist.

      • jsbrendog (returns) says:

        i went to ST in 1999 and saw clay bellinger make what appeared to be 3 errors on one play at 3b. he kicked a grounder back towards the mound, threw it away past the 1b and then dropped the throw to third which wouldnt nailed the runner. i knew great things lay ahead

  6. cranky says:

    I like Lowell, always have. But I can’t see how he’d fit in at this point.
    Obviously, the Yanks are thinking about days when A-Rod needs a break from his 3B duties. But Lowell has been injured and isn’t really reliable anymore.
    On the other hand, Ramiro Pena, who can play 3B well, can’t hit a lick.
    For 2010, however, Pena is the Yanks only reliable defensive backup. Ty Wigginton would have been a nice
    pick-up, but the Os probably asked for top prospects in exchange–which would’ve been ridiculous.

    I wonder about Mark Teixiera……..not right now, but for 2011. Why not groom him to play some 3B?

    Tex did, in fact, play a few games at 3B some years back. I think he also played some 3B in college. He’s obviously a great defensive first baseman, with sure hands, quick footwork, etc. And, at 29-30 years old, it’s not as if he’s too old to learn something new. Why not, this off-season and into the Spring, have him play some 3B? The Yanks already have a more than capable back-up first baseman in Swisher. If Tex could play some 3B, it would be perfect, wouldn’t it?

  7. Steve H says:

    If he could play 3B halfway decently I’d be on board, but I question that at this point. After seeing Ramiro Pena start at 3rd yesterday they should find a way to upgrade that spot, but it also has to be a guy who can play SS as well, so Lowell cleary isn’t that guy. I just don’t think the roster flexibility is there to make this move.

  8. Mike Nitabach says:

    I don’t like the Lowell idea, but seeing if Tex could play some games at 3rd is pretty interesting.

  9. LeftyLarry says:

    I personally think Colin Curtis is a better prospect (he’s finally matured) then most YAnkee fans think.he’s not a career back-up necessarily.
    He has power, runs fairly well, cahn play defense and throw fairly well also.He put together osme veteran (yankee style ) at-bats in his cameo this year and it was not necessary to go out nad gewt another OF’er.JMHO.
    More pitching was obviously needed and adding a Berkman probably can’t hurt.

  10. Kiersten says:

    Having Ramiro Pena in the lineup once or twice a week isn’t going to kill us. Especially if the rest of our lineup is all regulars.
    If the one weakness in our team is the offensive production of our utility infielder, then I think we’ll be ok.

  11. iYankee(next generation from Apple) says:

    Don’t you think that if Lowell is an option that could/would displace Thames, that unless the Yankees were willing to part with many prospects it is an indication that they have the best of what is available – as it pertains to how the team works?

  12. Steve H says:

    I’m just looking forward to the Mike Lowell smear campaign to start as soon as he’s packing his bags in Boston.

    • radnom says:

      There actually already was one, before the season started when it looked like he would be traded to Texas. I guess that has died down now.

    • Lol did you hear Johnny Damon the other day? He told Boston reporters that had they kept him, the team would have probably won another world series (aside from the one in 2007).

      It wouldn’t surprise me of the smear campaign got a little ugly. It seems like Lowell has been a little bitter towards the Sox organization for a while now.

      • JoeC says:

        The smear campaign began last year on Lowell. The Sox front office started leaking their typical “he’s bad in the clubhouse” stories. Which is ironic since Lowell being a great Club House guy was one reason the Sox gave for needing o re-sign him after ’07. Which is also why the story didn’t gain any steam, no Sox fans believed it.

    • bexarama says:

      Hasn’t it already started? There was a whole lot of “he’s a clubhouse malcontent because he’s not getting playing time” early in the season, I believe.

  13. nick mar says:

    The idea of mike lowell is absolutely absurd. He cant run to his left or right, so anything hit his way is an automatic base hit. Yanks don’t need him, we’ll be fine with Ramiro Pena, even though he cant hit to save his life. his job is to throw the ball to 1st anyways. We will be fine with Pena as the backup infielder the rest of the year.

  14. ZZ says:

    I think the attempt to acquire Lowell has much less to do with Mike Lowell and much more to do with Alex Rodriguez.

    I believe A-Rod’s hip has been hurting him much more than has been lead on in the media following the hip flexor injury he had earlier this season.

    He has not been generating the same power through his hips that he usually does. Something that he does better than anyone in the game.

    Frankie Pilliere had a fantastic article on A-Rod’s problems today that I would recommend everyone reading.

    I would think targeting Mike Lowell tells you the Yankees are confident in his ability to at least adequately play 3B.

    With a much better bat than Ramiro Pena, Lowell makes it much easier to rest A-Rod. I think the Yankees know some extended rest would greatly benefit A-Rod’s hip heading into the postseason.

    I hope they do acquire Lowell.

  15. JoeC says:

    I’d hate to lose Thames because he mashes lefties and can handle a bench role, but frankly Mike Lowell is a considerably better player than Thames. I would love to have Lowell as the the RH DH, back up 3rd and 1st. Lowell is a professional hitter and still has power left. He also is a proven playoff performer, who seems to take his game up a notch in big spots. A four person bench of Cervelli, Pena, Kearns, and Lowell isn’t that bad

  16. nick mar says:

    ZZ your mentally ill. A-rod’s fine, he’s just pressing over his 600th. You could tell he’s trying to hit it. In Tampa he swung at several fastballs right down the middle and tried to hit em out, and the result was a routine shallow fly ball. Once he gets the homer, he’ll be fine. He dont need a break, no player needs a break. You get paid $400 million and you shouldnt need any breaks. go out there and do your job.

    • Jose the Satirist says:

      Come on man, no need for personal attacks.

    • ZZ says:

      This post made me laugh. Thanks for that.

      I guess you forgot last year when they shut A-Rod down for the Marlins series.

      I also guess you haven’t seen that A-Rod only has 16 HRs this year.

      I have said a few times this season A-Rod is not generating the same power through his hips as he usually does.

      Damn. I don’t know why I continued to write this post. I really should have just stopped at this post made me laugh.

    • Steve H says:

      You get paid $400 million and you shouldnt need any breaks. go out there and do your job.

      Regardless of whether someone makes the league minimum or is the highest paid player in history, they are still human beings. Humans, as you may or may not be aware, can get tired, sore, injured, fatigued both physicall and mentally. This happens more often to professional athletes too, shockingly enough. Should he just play 162 games a year, plus all spring training games, plus the All-Star game, plus the playoffs simply because he takes home a nice paycheck?

    • iYankee(next generation from Apple) says:

      That is funny. I do agree once he hits #600 he may go on a streak and carry the Yankees to a 4 game spread over Tampa. However, I don’t think he is fully healed from the surgery and suspect the Yankees will target a 3b in offseason – think someone above mentioned a SS/3b combo which would be perfect.

      • ZZ says:

        I don’t think it is the injury from last year that is really bothering him.

        He had that hip flexor injury earlier this year that was not connected to or stemmed from the surgery.

        • iYankee(next generation from Apple) says:

          You are correct. I forgot about that surgery.

          That could mean like all men approaching 35+, you just don’t heal as quickly as you did approaching 25.

          Still, that was an excellent article and I would have to think that the swing is already being addressed by Long, leaving the aches and pains as the real culprit.

  17. B-Rando says:

    The Yanks will be fine with Ramiro Pena as long as Girardi is smart about giving guys days off. If he’s giving A-rod the day off from third, he should make sure the rest of the lineup is filled with regulars. We won’t miss guys as much that way.

  18. What about pitchers? I bet CC would be thrilled to pitch every day. It would remind him of his glory days with the Brewers.

  19. bonestock94 says:

    Eh, I don’t see the use of a Lowell. Poor fielding means he is not a replacement for a utility. We have enough pop off the bench now.

  20. larryf says:

    Didn’t Celerino Sanchez used to post here? We could use him at 3rd. Oh-I forgot- he’s 60 now

    RightyLarry

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