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Third is 1st priority for Red Sox

One clear way for the Red Sox to improve this winter would be toupgrade at third base, where Mike Lowell has visibly lost a step sincehis hip surgery. Though Lowell was praised during the 2009 ALDS forsnaring every ball hit to him, that’s actually the problem — at thispoint, he can only defend balls that are hit right at him.

One clear way for the Red Sox to improve this winter would be to upgrade at third base, where Mike Lowell has visibly lost a step since his hip surgery. Though Lowell was praised during the 2009 ALDS for snaring every ball hit to him, that’s actually the problem — at this point, he can only defend balls that are hit right at him.

As I see it, the options are: Trade Lowell and get someone new to play third; trade Lowell, move Kevin Youkilis to third and get a new first baseman; or keep Lowell, have him spend more time at DH, and find someone else to play third.

The third is the most viable. Lowell would be hard to trade, since he will be 36 next season and due $12 million in salary. If the Red Sox trade him, they’ll likely end up having to eat at least part of that money. And as a 10-5 player (10 years in the majors, five of them with the same team) he has some protection against an unwanted trade.

Of course, the Sox already have a DH — and there are a number of barriers to trading him, too. Boston will just have to accept it has a very expensive DH platoon, and have David Ortiz hit against righties and let Lowell take the lefties. (Lowell OPSed .867 against lefties and .784 against righties; Ortiz’ OPS was .828 against righties and just .716 against lefties.) This way, the Sox would also have some lineup insurance if either elder statesman were to get hurt.

In this scenario, who’s on third? Possibly free agent Adrian Beltre. While he’s coming off a bad year and his offense has been muted in Seattle’s cavernous park, his defense at third has always been solid. Then there’s speedy OBP-machine Chone Figgins, another handy defensive glove — though it’s hard to look past his complete lack of power at a corner position.

What about the option of moving Youkilis to third and trading for a top-tier first baseman? Like a lot of Sox-watchers, I salivate at the prospect of Prince Fielder or Adrian Gonzalez joining the team. But the odds of them being traded are slim, and the Sox might not have enough to swing a deal. And Youk’s defense is only so-so at third.

Whatever option they choose, if upgrading at third isn’t one of Boston’s top priorities this winter, 2010 will be too much like 2009.

– Sarah Green also writes for UmpBump.com. She can be reached at sarah@umpbump.com.

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