Last month, the Indians came to terms on a minor-league deal with journeyman infielder Julio Lugo. Though there was no risk in a non-guaranteed deal, it was a questionable move considering that the Indians already had two young, reasonably high-upside candidates for their utility infield role—Jason Donald and Cord Phelps—as well as two other veterans coming to spring training on minor-league deals (Andy LaRoche and Jose Lopez).
Now, MLB.com’s Jordan Bastian reports that the deal is off. There’s no word on what caused the snafu, but Bastian said matters of money and terms of incentives had already been agreed upon and suggested that Lugo had probably failed his physical.
If the problem is Lugo’s health, that’s regrettable on a personal level—I certainly have no intention of rejoicing in another person’s physical problems. But from the Indians’ standpoint, that Lugo won’t be in the fold is probably a good thing.
There’s a chance Lugo might have come in handy next year. If a couple infield starters went down with injuries, Phelps and Donald both struggled, and neither LaRoche nor Lopez enjoyed any sort of bouncebacks, he’d have a clear place on the team—hey, it’s possible. Plus Lugo might have been the best defensive option the Indians had at shortstop.
Realistically, though, Lugo probably would have been (at best) the fourth-best candidate for the utility infield spot, even with his experience at shortstop. And if the Indians end up in desperate need of yet another backup infielder, it will probably mean that there is no hope for the 2012 season.
But Lugo would likely have ended up getting more playing time than he deserved. His signing was just another indication that, for some reason, the front office doesn’t have any confidence in Donald or Phelps. There wouldn’t have been any reason for the Indians to pursue Lugo if they didn’t think he had a realistic chance of making the team, and such an idea necessitates thinking quite little of Donald and Phelps. Same goes for the Lopez signing and, to a lesser extent, the acquisition of LaRoche.
The problem wasn’t that Lugo might get playing time—if the aforementioned nightmare scenario were to come to fruition, we wouldn’t be in a position to be picky about who stepped in—but that he might get playing time that otherwise would have been given to younger, cheaper, higher-ceiling, and almost certainly better players. Now that the deal has fallen through, that won’t happen.
There’s still the possibility that Donald and Phelps could unjustly lose playing time to LaRoche and Lopez, and there’s a chance that losing Lugo could send the Indians running to find another washed-up veteran to compete for a spot on the team in spring training. For now, though, the Indians are better off now that we know Lugo won’t have a roster spot.