More on the Lugo trade

SARASOTA, Fla. — Sensing a need to bolster their middle
infield depth, the Orioles acquired veteran Julio Lugo from the Cardinals in a
deal that was made official Thursday afternoon.

“It makes sense for
us,” Baltimore’s president of baseball operations Andy MacPhail said of the
trade. “[Lugo] was productive offensively last year and he’s been a productive
offensive player. As I said before, he’s just a better fit for us right
now.”

The trade pretty much went down on Wednesday afternoon, when
Lugo was called into Cardinals general manager John Mozeliak’s office and was
told his days with St. Louis were numbered. In return for Lugo the Cardinals
will receive a player to be named later, or cash considerations if a player
can’t be agreed upon.

The trade makes sense for Baltimore, given that second
baseman Brian Roberts has been slowed this spring by a herniated disk in his
lower back. The 34-year-old Lugo would also provide middle infield depth at
shortstop, spelling Cesar Izturis, and is expected to take the roster spot of
utility man Robert Andino.

Considered Izturis’ primary backup, Andino is out of options
and would have to be released or traded if he doesn’t make the team’s Opening
Day roster, which has to be set by 3 p.m. ET on Sunday, April 4.

“We still have some
moving pieces and we will see how that shakes out here in the next week,”
MacPhail said in regards to Andino’s future. “[A potential trade] is for your
speculation. There are still some balls in the air as their often are at this
time, towards the end of Spring Training.”

Andino has appeared in 22 games this spring and started at
shortstop Wednesday in the Orioles contest against the Tampa Bay Rays in Port
Charlotte, Fla. Since utility guy Ty Wigginton is considered the team’s corner
infield backup, MacPhail didn’t expect Lugo’s acquisition to effect Wigginton’s
potential playing time.

What Lugo will do is add a level of security for manager
Dave Trembley, particularly concerning Roberts. Expected to be the Orioles
Opening Day second baseman, Roberts had played in three straight games prior to
Wednesday with no reported issues. But Baltimore’s grueling opening schedule
-which includes 16 straight games – dictates the necessity for another middle
infielder. 

“That was encouraging
to see him move around the way he did,” MacPhail said of Roberts, who doubled
and made several dives in the field in Wednesday’s game.  “Our medical reports are favorable. I think
it’s prudent, particularly you are facing three games on the [Tampa Bay Rays]
turf and a three o’clock start after a night game [April 8 and 9], I think it’s
prudent that we are going to have to pick our spots to make sure he gets
adequate rest. And that’s another reason where Julio makes sense for us.”

While the Orioles scouts have been looking for middle
infielders all spring, MacPhail said Lugo didn’t really get on their radar
screen until several days ago.  The
Cardinals late-February acquisition of Felipe Lopez left Lugo with an
unidentified bench job, a logjam which opened the door for the Orioles to make
an addition.

 “All of a sudden we started to do the math and
shifted our focus,” MacPhail said. “We were satisfied with the way [Lugo] has
played this spring.”

Lugo has hit. 240 in 10 Grapefruit League games despite
battling a groin injury. The Cardinals acquired Lugo in late July from Boston,
in exchange for Chris Duncan, and the infielder batted .280 with three homers
and 21 RBIs in 88 games.

Cardinals manager Tony La Russa praised Lugo on Thursday,
talking about how the veteran came to camp in great shape and said from the
beginning that he wanted to win an everyday job. With Brendan Ryan already
entrenched as the shortstop and Skip Schumaker the second baseman, that was not
possible. It’s not likely in Orioles camp either, although Lugo figures to get
a more regular opportunity to play.

“[The Cardinals]
were honest to me,” said Lugo, who added that he never requested a trade.
“They did everything they told me they were going to do. It didn’t work
out here. They told me if I get a better situation, they were going to trade
me. I’m happy they did it.”

MacPhail said Lugo sounded encouraged when the two spoke on
the phone, and wasn’t concerned about his troubled past. Lugo was arrested and
charged with assaulting his wife in the spring of 2003. His wife filed a
restraining order but later rescinded it and Lugo was found not guilty of
misdemeanor assault after his wife stated that she had exaggerated the story.

“We’ve had some people
that are familiar with him that speak highly of him,” MacPhail said. “I know
there have been episodes in that past, but they’re pretty distant past
now.  And most of the stuff we got has
been positive on that account.”

Speaking to reporters before the deal was official, Trembley
acknowledged the necessity of having a backup middle infielder he can depend
on.

“I don’t think it’s about Andino, I don’t think it’s about
anything else,” Trembley said. “What you’re looking for is to put the best nine
guys out there each and every day. That’s what it’s always about. And the
nature of the game is you’re always looking to improve your club.”

In 10 Major League seasons Lugo has a career .271 batting
average (1,213-4,473) with 80 home runs and 452 RBI. In 1,208 games as a major
league infielder, Lugo has a .965 career fielding percentage.

He’s owed $9 million this season, and he has a $9 million
vesting option for 2011 that’s unreachable because he hasn’t compiled the
necessary plate appearances since 2007. The Red Sox are on the hook for all of
Lugo’s 2010 salary, meaning the Orioles, like the Cardinals, will pay him
league minimum.

In order to make room for Lugo on the Major League roster,
the Orioles designated infielder Michael Aubrey for assignment.

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