As last season’s trading deadline approached rumors were rampant that a deal was imminent to move Julio Lugo to either the New York Mets or the Boston Red Sox. During the off-season, more rumors came and went. As this season began, it was considered a foregone conclusion that the free agent-to-be would be dealt to somebody before the July 31st trading deadline. After all, the team had one shortstop with a major league-ready bat waiting in the wings at AAA Durham. In addition, Lugo, who makes $4.95 million this season, would certainly command a very lucrative offer in the off-season. The Dodgers gave Rafael Furcal $39 million over 3 years and he is, at best, a similar player to Lugo. In fact, Furcal is Lugo without any power. And while the Dodgers overpaid for Furcal, Lugo will certainly seek a contract in excess of $8 million per season. That price tag is probably too rich for the Tampa Bay brass, given that there are other options in the minor leagues (Upton, Ben Zobrist, Reid Brignac).
So, as we approached this season’s trade deadline, the question was not ‘if’ Lugo would be traded, but ‘to whom’ would he be traded. The problem is…two of the big players in the past appear to no longer have any interest in Lugo. The Mets appear set at second base with the veteran Jose Valentin, and the Red Sox appear to be content with the defensive prowess of Alex Gonzalez (if unspectacular glove) at shortstop. Apparently that leave the Toronto Blue Jays as the only known team to show any real interest in Lugo. The problem is that the Devil Rays apparently have their eyes on 3 pitching prospects of the Blue Jays and Toronto is unwilling to unload any of them. The Toronto Star is reporting that the Jays are offering the team’s 2004 1st round draft pick, David Purcey who has struggled as a professional. Purcey is 2-7 with a 5.40 ERA in 12 starts for AAA Syracuse. The problem for Toronto, is that it appears they have no interest in Lugo past this season.
So it looks like the teams are currently at an impasse. There is still plenty of time to get a deal done before the deadline, but at this point, it is far from imminent. The Devil Rays do have a couple of other options. The first is obviously to try and re-sign Lugo at the end of the season. Lugo has made it clear that he likes playing in Tampa, and he loves playing with his brother Rudy Lugo. But if Lugo is to be a D-Ray past the 2006 season, it would take a very generous “home-town” discount. We can’t see the team offering more than $6 million per season, and they may not be willing to commit more that 3 years to a shortstop that is already in his 30s. The other option is to keep Lugo until the end of the season and let him walk as a free agent. In doing so, the team will be awarded a sandwich pick at the end of the 1st round in the 2007 amateur draft. The Oakland A’s have used this method to stockpile their organization with 1st round talent. At this point, this may be the best option for the Rays. If all the Jays are going to offer is a 1st round bust, then why not wait until next summer, take the extra first round pick and find a player that the team is truly interested in.
Earlier this season we would have never believed that Lugo would still be a Devil Ray past July 31st. Now we think it is at worst a 50/50 scenario between him staying and going.