Rangers Claim Garko, Leave Sox With Advantage

Over the winter the Rangers sought a right-handed bat who could play first base. During the Winter Meetings in December they came close to acquiring Mike Lowell from Boston to fill that role. But after they learned that Lowell would require surgery to repair his thumb they backed away. The deal wouldn’t have been bad from Texas’s end. They would have sent catcher Max Ramirez to Boston and would have received about 75 percent of Lowell’s 2010 salary.

This spring we’ve again heard about the two parties reigniting talks. While scouts have basically labeled Lowell as an old man who needs a walker to play the field, he still appears able to hit and possibly play first base. Because of this, and because of the thumb surgery from which Lowell is recovering, word was that Boston would kick in even more salary. Yet while we heard rumblings, we didn’t hear anything indicating a deal was close.

Today Texas found a way to fill their need for a right-handed hitting first baseman and keep Ramirez in the system. Earlier this week the Mariners, somewhat famously, waived Ryan Garko. Texas put in a claim and officially acquired him today. Garko isn’t quite the hitter Lowell is, even if Lowell’s production suffers from his age and recent injuries. But for a cost-effective option, but in salary and prospect transfer, the Rangers made out decently in this deal. There could be opportunities in the future, as well, to trade for Lowell, should the Red Sox find him superfluous.

For their part, the Red Sox certainly benefit from having Lowell on the roster. He’s a bit costly for a bench player, but that doesn’t appear to bother the Sox. They were, after all, willing to send considerable salary relief to Texas in the previous deal, so money is not the object here. Perhaps they’d like to avoid a situation where they have to keep a loyal player — one who was reportedly in talks with the Phillies for a four-year contract before signing for three with Boston. As long as his presence doesn’t cause clubhouse damage, it will be an advantage for the Sox.

Lowell’s hip became a problem in August 2008. He tried to play through it at the beginning of the month, but by mid-month it was clear he was headed for the DL. He had a .358 wOBA from March through July 2008, higher than his career to that point, though a bit below his career year in 2007. He played in just 22 games and accumulated just 86 PA in August and September that year and, predictably, his production suffered, though his wOBA still sat at .344 in that short sample. By the time the playoffs rolled around, though, it was clear that he couldn’t hold up. After a hitless nine PA in the ALDS Lowell did not appear in the ALCS.

Following off-season surgery to repair the torn labrum in his hip Lowell returned for the start of the 2009 season and hit very well, though his September production, a .297 wOBA, made his season stats look a bit worse. During the season’s first five months, during which he missed 19 days to the DL and three additional days with hip tightness, Lowell posted a .366 wOBA. His defense understandably fell off, as he posted his first negative UZR since the the stat’s inaugural 2002 season. In terms of wRC+, Lowell posted his second best season as member of the Red Sox. His defense, however, made it his worst in terms of WAR.

This season the Red Sox need not worry much about Lowell’s defense. They have glovework wizard Adrian Beltre manning third base, and Kevin Youkilis can also capably man the position. If Beltre doesn’t work out as the Sox hope they could always move Youk across the diamond and insert Lowell at first. Then again, that might be the plan for getting Victor Martinez, who hasn’t caught more than 100 games since 2007, out from behind the plate. Lowell can also replace David Ortiz against tough lefties. The latter has seen his wOBA against lefties decline over the past four seasons, and while he can still do some damage against them — he did post a .206 ISO against them in 2009 — perhaps Lowell can use his lefty mashing skills here.

Having a player of Lowell’s caliber on the bench can also help protect against injuries. Last year the Yankees had both Nick Swisher and Xavier Nady for the right field gig, and much of the preseason banter centered on the team’s ability to find at-bats for Swisher. Barely a week into the season, however, Nady re-injured his elbow and needed corrective surgery. Swisher stepped in and produced at a level far above Nady’s career averages. Had the Yankees dealt Swisher during the spring, and such a move had been rumored, they would have been in a much tougher position in mid-April.

It’s understandable why the Red Sox would try to trade Lowell. He won’t be a starter, but can hit like one. Another team will find value in that, and perhaps send the Red Sox something useful in return. Additionally, there is probably, at least on a small level, a feeling of obligation towards Lowell for signing a shorter term contract with the Red Sox after the 2007 season. But unless the Red Sox receive an over the top offer, they can benefit greatly from having Lowell on the roster. Players slump and players get hurt. Lowell can help fill in those gaps and make the 2010 Red Sox a stronger team.

We hoped you liked reading Rangers Claim Garko, Leave Sox With Advantage by Joe Pawlikowski!

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Joe also writes about the Yankees at River Ave. Blues.

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The Red Sox usually carry 12 pitchers. That leaves 4 bench spots, one of which is for Varitek at catcher, another for Hermida and one more for Bill Hall. I am sure they would prefer the last spot to go to someone who can play both middle IF and OF corner.

As you say, they have no need for him at 1B or 3B, and even DH since V-Mart can DH against tough lefties with Varitek who can hit LHP catching. Beltre has a PA incentive that doubles his option value, so he won’t take too kindly to losing PA’s if he gets off to a slow start at the plate. Keeping Lowell means keeping a player who can only be useful as a sometimes DH against tough lefties or as a PH’er. I wonder how he would perform in such a limited role, tough to stay sharp at the plate sitting on the bench 95% of the time.

And how valuable is his bat anyways. After August 2nd, Mike Lowell had a 335 OBP and 783 OPS. Not that bad, but not great either given he hits at Fenway. Also, he makes Rod Barajas look like Jacoby Ellsbury on the basepaths, talk about clogging the basepaths. His H-A splits suggest he will not be the same hitter outside Fenway, or a pitcher friendly park like Texas. But now that they have Garko, thats out. And Kevin Millar says Hi to everyone else, not that he is a better hitter, but he adds “chemistry” and is cheap.

The best thing the Red Sox could do for Lowell, out of loyalty for him signing for shorter years and money, is to release him, and let him find a role with a team that has a spot for him to get more playing time, and perhaps re-inflate his value for 2011.

If he is still with the team after April 15 when they go with a 5 man rotation and Daisuke comes back, I will be surprised (unless there is an injury to V-Mart, Youk or Papi). But with 9 million dead money being spent on Lugo who will be playing for the Orioles, maybe they don’t want to see another 12.5 million on the books,especially if Mike ends up with a team in the AL East, where he could do some damage at Fenway. That would be a bad decision made for the wrong reason.