Commentary

Another strange twist for Lowell

After surgery, third baseman expected to be ready for spring training

Updated: December 21, 2009, 9:22 AM ET
By Gordon Edes | ESPNBoston.com

The trade sending Mike Lowell to Texas has been quashed, a baseball source said Saturday night, after a physical exam by the Rangers revealed that the third baseman requires surgery on his right thumb, which he injured on the last weekend of the 2009 season.

A Red Sox source confirmed that Lowell will require surgery to repair the radial collateral ligament in his right thumb, which the source termed as "minor" surgery that will take six to eight weeks to heal. Lowell, who is expected to undergo the surgery after Christmas, should be ready by the first week or two of spring training, the source said.

[+] EnlargeMike Lowell
Jim McIsaac/Getty Images After surgery, Mike Lowell is expected to be ready for spring training.

But instead of reporting to the Rangers' camp in Surprise, Ariz., the plan at the moment has Lowell headed to Sox camp in Fort Myers, Fla., for what will be his fifth season with the Red Sox. Sox position players are scheduled to report Feb. 20, with the first full-squad workout scheduled for two days later. As an injured player, Lowell has the right to report with pitchers and catchers on Feb. 14.

The Sox had agreed to send Lowell to the Rangers in exchange for minor league catcher Max Ramirez. The deal was essentially a salary dump, with Boston agreeing to pay $9 million of the $12 million due to Lowell in 2010.

But now it appears the Sox have little choice but to put Lowell on their roster for the start of the season. The teams conceivably could resurrect the deal, as the Rangers were looking to Lowell to serve as a right-handed DH and potential platoon first baseman as well as a backup to third baseman Michael Young, who missed most of September with a strained hamstring.

However, since the original deal was struck at the winter meetings in Indianapolis, the Rangers have had a new ownership group approved by MLB, and new owner Chuck Greenberg, whose group includes Hall of Famer Nolan Ryan, could well instruct GM Jon Daniels to go in another direction. Daniels almost certainly would want to see how Lowell responds to the surgery in spring training, as well as to gauge how well he is moving a year and a half after undergoing hip surgery, before revisiting the deal.

He could easily elect to pursue other alternatives instead.

The Red Sox, after signing free-agent pitcher John Lackey to a five-year, $82.5 million deal earlier this week, had abandoned their pursuit of free-agent third baseman Adrian Beltre and were prepared to open the season with Kevin Youkilis crossing the diamond from first to third and Casey Kotchman playing first. Lowell's return could alter that equation, although the Red Sox will need to be convinced that he is healthy before they restore him to third base, where statistically he ranked at the bottom defensively in the major leagues, according to numerous defensive metrics.

Lowell was dramatically hobbled last season by the hip surgery, and while he said he was told by doctors that it would take him a year to fully recover, the Red Sox were sufficiently doubtful of that progression, especially at his age (he turns 36 on Feb. 24), that they made other plans.

One possibility is that the Red Sox, if they find they cannot trade him, could release him outright. Another possibility, as improbable as it might sound, is that the cancellation of the trade turns out to be fortuitous for the Red Sox, with Lowell healthy and capable of playing the way he did before he was hurt. In that scenario, Youkilis would remain at first, with Kotchman as his backup, and Lowell would reclaim third base.

It's another strange twist in Lowell's odyssey with the Red Sox, which began with the club reluctantly inheriting his contract in order to capture Josh Beckett, the prize they sought from the Florida Marlins after the 2005 season. That deal was made while Theo Epstein was on hiatus as Sox GM, and it is highly debatable whether he would have made the deal, since the Red Sox sent superstar-in-waiting Hanley Ramirez to Florida.

But far from being a mere throw-in, Lowell turned into a valued member of the Sox, the highlight of his Boston years coming when he was named Most Valuable Player of the 2007 World Series. Lowell was in demand after that season -- the Philadelphia Phillies making a strong bid that he found extremely tempting -- but he elected to sign a three-year, $37.5 million deal with Boston.

Lowell appeared on the verge of being dealt elsewhere last year, when the Red Sox were in intense pursuit of first baseman Mark Teixeira, which would have left him the odd man out. He acknowledged being perturbed by those rumors, but when his name came up again this winter, he said he paid little heed. "I haven't lost one night of sleep,'' he said this month at David Ortiz's charity event in the Dominican Republic.

The dissolution of the deal underscores why the Red Sox refuse to acknowledge a deal or free agent signing until it is official and physicals are passed. Daniels was a little more forthcoming than Epstein, though he stressed from the outset that the deal was not finalized and both clubs retained the right to go in another direction.

Which means, as of now, Mike Lowell is staying put.

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.

Gordon Edes

Red Sox reporter, ESPNBoston.com

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