With the 4-3, 18 inning victory for Mexico over the Dominican Republic in the Caribbean Series, the Winter League play came to an end on February 8th. That loss also brought about the end for Julio Lugo, who determined that it was time to retire after 17 years as a professional baseball player.
Lugo was originally drafted by the Houston Astros back in 1994 in the 43rd round, and did not sign until May 17th the following year. He ascended through the Astros minor leagues at a decent clip, reaching the AAA New Orleans Zephyrs in 2000. After a brief time in New Orleans, Lugo was called up to Houston. He made his major league debut on April 15, entering the game as a pinch runner for Tony Eusebio in the 8th inning. After playing sparingly in ten games, Lugo was sent back to New Orleans before being recalled on May 28th, where he split time between shortstop and second base. Overall, in 116 games, he produced a decent .283/.346/.431 batting line, with 10 home runs and 22 stolen bases.
In 2001, Lugo became entrenched as the Astors regular shortstop. However, despite appearing in 140 games, he regressed, batting at only a .263/.326/.372 clip. He still managed to hit 10 home runs, but was only 12-23 on stolen base attempts and striking out 116 times against only 46 walks. He struggled again in 2002, playing in 88 games before breaking his left forearm after being hit by a pitch from Kerry Wood on August 12th and missing the rest of the year.
Lugo began the 2003 season in Houston, but struggled out of the gate, batting at only a .246/.338/.292 rate through 22 games. Amid allegations that he hit his wife and after being charged with assault, the Astros released Lugo on May 9th. On May 15th, Lugo was signed by the Rays, where he quickly became a fairly productive player, producing a .275/.333/.427 batting line while slugging 15 home runs and stealing 10 bases. He remained the starting shortstop through 2004 and 2005, displaying solid offense and excellent speed.
In 2006, Lugo appeared on his way to a career year, as he was batting at a .308/.373/.498 clip with 12 home runs and 18 stolen bases when he was traded on July 31st to the Los Angeles Dodgers for Joel Guzman and Sergio Pedroza. Used as a utility player, Lugo bounced between second, third, and short, even spending some time in right and left field. His numbers dropped off dramatically in Los Angeles, as he batted only .219 with no power during the Dodgers playoff run.
A free agent, Lugo was signed to a four year $36million contract by the Boston Red Sox on December 5, 2006, in a move which would turn out to be disastrous. Originally expected to bat leadoff for the Red Sox, he was moved to the bottom of the lineup because he was unable to get on base consistently. His 2007 season reached rock bottom where, between June 15 and July 2, he endured a 0-31 slump which dropped his batting average down to .189. Just a week later, Lugo went on a 14 game hitting streak, which brought his average up to .226. 2007 would end up as Lugo’s worst season in his career, as he only batted .237/.294/.349. However, he turned his game around during the postseason, turning in a .271 batting average as the Red Sox went on to win the World Series that year.
2008 was also a rough season for Lugo, as he not only battles injuries, but was a disaster in the field, leading the American League in errors before being placed on the disabled list for the remainder of the season on July 12. After getting off to a rough start in 2009, and ending up in a time share with Nick Green, Lugo was traded by the Red Sox to the St. Louis Cardinals for Chris Duncan on July 22. Lugo spent the rest of the year in St. Louis, then was traded to the Baltimore Orioles for the infamous Player to be Named Later. After that year, Lugo was signed to a minor league contract by the Atlanta Braves on May 23, 2011. Even though he appeared in only 22 games for the Braves, he was involved in one of the more controversial plays of 2011, when he appeared to be tagged out in the 19th inning of a game against the Pirates. However, he was ruled safe, and scored the winning run to end the marathon. A free agent again after the 2011 season, Lugo appeared to have a minor league contract in place with the Cleveland Indians, but the deal fell through., and Lugo found himself out of baseball in 2012.
Now that he has retired, Lugo will leave behind an interesting legacy. For the Rays, he was a solid shortstop, averaging 3.1 WAR per season. He had a solid blend of speed and power, and was good defensively, as he ranked amongst the league leaders in range factor, total zone runs, assists, and putouts. However, for most everyone else, he may be remembered as one of the biggest busts of the Theo Epstein era in Boston, a player who simply was unable to perform to expectations and became truly despised by the Red Sox fanbase.
The reality is that Julio Lugo was a decent enough player who truly blossomed in Tampa. For the Rays, he was considered a good player according the WAR rankings, yet produced a -1.2 WAR elsewhere. Perhaps if he remained in Tampa, his career may have turned out differently, and Lugo would be remembered in a better light. Yet, his legacy is likely to be those two and a half horrific seasons as a member of the Red Sox.