The Red Sox never really wanted Mike Lowell, not really, not at the beginning, not in the middle, not at the end. They reluctantly took him from Florida. They hoped he would go to Philadelphia. They tried to send him to Texas.
And so now here we are, a mere three games from the end of the 2010 season, and the darnedest thing is happening this weekend at Fenway Park: Lowell is walking out on his own. He is making the choice himself. A 13-year veteran who went to four All-Star Games while collecting one Gold Glove Award and one Silver Slugger, Lowell leaves Boston with a championship ring and the honor of being the Most Valuable Player of the 2007 World Series, the latter of which resulted from a succession of events like no other in recent Red Sox history.
The moral of the story as it pertains to roster building and organizational philosophies:
It’s better to be lucky than good.With Lowell, this all goes back to the autumn of 2005, to Theo Epstein vs. Larry Lucchino, to the internal power struggle that divided Boston as if it were Congress Street. You were either on Theo’s side or on Larry’s side, and there was no in-between. Amid all of the mudslinging, the Red Sox had no choice but to move forward and build their roster for 2006 and beyond.
Remember the time? Epstein resigned from his post as general manager, then left Fenway Park in a gorilla suit. He later went to South America with Pearl Jam. In between, the Red Sox were run by the group consisting of Bill Lajoie, Craig Shipley, Jed Hoyer, and Ben Cherington – the old guys and the young guys – while Epstein privately advised his allies. The Red Sox subsequently made the trade that brought Lowell to Boston with pitcher Josh Beckett, the kind of ground-shaking deal from which a line forever remained drawn.
Theo would not have made the trade at the time.
Lucchino’s guys did.
"It was myself and Craig Shipley who were the proponents of that trade, who wanted to go for it," Lajoie said roughly 18 months later, in May 2007. "There were some last-second attempts to stop the trade, but we decided to go through with it.
"There were two people in evaluation within that organization that I trusted (at the time), and that was me and Shipley," Lajoie went on. "We had a lot of faith in (Lowell) because we'd seen him play well (for) too many years. When I was over there (scouting) and watching him play, he tried everything to get out of it (during a miserable '05 season). He tried to hit the ball to right field and it would get caught, or he'd line out to the second baseman. There was nothing wrong with the player. It was just that kind of a season."
So Lowell ended up in Boston, alongside Beckett, a development that still has us debating today: was it the right move? And how much, exactly, did the Red Sox give up? On the one hand, the Red Sox won a World Series. One the other, shortstop Hanley Ramirez could still be here.
The latter is an issue now more than ever before, particularly with the Red Sox facing an offseason in which core components of their lineup (Victor Martinez, Adrian Beltre) are eligible for free agency. Meanwhile, Nomar Garciaparra begot Orlando Cabrera, who begot Edgar Renteria, who begot Alex Gonzalez, who begot Julio Lugo, who begot Jed Lowrie, who begot Gonzalez again, who begot Jose Iglesias, who begot Marco Scutaro, who begot Felipe Lopez … and our heads would not be spinning if the Red Sox had merely held onto Hanley in the first place.
And, of course, we not be wondering now if that extension for Beckett was a mistake.
Even with a World Series ring that he may not otherwise possess, Epstein has plenty of ammunition from those days, too.
Along the way, there was Lowell, who must be wondering today what he ever did to get wrapped up in this mess. From the moment Epstein returned, it was as if the young GM could not dispose of Lowell fast enough. In the spring of 2006, after Epstein was restored, the Red Sox put into place a contingency plan that featured, among others, Hee Seop Choi. By the end of 2007, when Lowell became a free agent, the Red Sox seemed content to let Lowell leave, almost disappointed when he chose to stay for three years and $37.5 million, believed to be less than what the Philadelphia Phillies were offering (four years, $50 million).
In the winter of 2008, the Red Sox chased Mark Teixeira and put Lowell on the trade market. In the winter of 2009, the Red Sox traded him to Texas. The final strategy was thwarted when Lowell failed a physical exam and needed thumb surgery, bringing him back to Boston for a fifth season, an extraordinary improbability given that some members of the Boston organization never wanted him for one.
Despite it all, Lowell became a fan favorite here, someone who will be honored at Fenway tomorrow night on "Thanks Mike Night." How’s that for the definition of irony? Lowell was never naïve about his landing here, saying from the very beginning that Beckett was "the key to that deal" and that the Marlins traded him "because of the contract." During the 2007 season, he said Boston was "an appealing situation" and stressed that he wanted "to be in that flow" for as long as he could.
Now Lowell is walking away and leaving baseball behind, by choice, a good player with a good career and a good reputation.
The man whom the Red Sox never really coveted gets the sendoff he never really wanted.
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