Around the Horn: Middle Infielders

Red Sox have their middle infield all set to go

The following is the third in a series of weekly stories on examining each Major League club, position by position. Each Wednesday until Spring Training camps open, we'll preview a different position. Today: Middle infielders.

BOSTON -- The double-play combination has turned into a revolving door for the Red Sox over the past several seasons, but this year's tandem could be a keeper that sticks for a few years.

The leader of the duo is Julio Lugo, the dynamic leadoff man and shortstop that the Sox plucked off the free-agent market for four years at $36 million.

Lugo, in the estimation of Red Sox general manager Theo Epstein, will do a plethora of things to help his team throughout the course of a season.

"He's very athletic," Epstein said. "He has great range at the position. He'll make his share of errors, but we think that's more than compensated for by his fantastic range. He gets to as many balls as anybody at that position. He's definitely a plus offensive player for the position. He's a tough out. He can handle all different kinds of pitching."

Though Lugo probably won't measure up to Alex Gonzalez from a defensive standpoint -- who does? -- he has the ability to make up for it in other ways.

Red Sox manager Terry Francona has seen enough of Lugo to know what type of leadoff hitter he now possesses.

"We're trying to win, we're trying to score a lot of runs," Francona said. "Julio's job is basically to score a ton of runs. However he does it, we'll take it -- whether he hits doubles, whether he chips in and hits a home run every once in a while, whether he steals 40 bases. ... If he's on base and [Kevin] Youkilis gets on base, and you bring David [Ortiz], Manny [Ramirez] and [J.D.] Drew up, we're in pretty good shape."

Lugo, who used to be a pest for the Red Sox when he played in Tampa Bay, will make his DP flips to rookie Dustin Pedroia. The Sox opted not to bring classy free-agent veteran Mark Loretta back for a second season.

This will be the first time the Red Sox open the season with a rookie position player since 2001, when Shea Hillenbrand won over manager Jimy Williams with an impressive Spring Training.

This spring, the second-base job will be there for the diminutive Pedroia to snare.

Boston Red Sox
Catchers: Backstops aim to rebound
Corner IF: Duo brings professionalism
Middle IF: Pair of newcomers
Outfielders: Manny is still Manny
Starters: Potential to be dynamic
Bullpen: In search of a closer
DH/Bench: Ortiz tops among DHs

"I don't think any of us are afraid to make a commitment to him playing second," said Francona. "I think not having to hit him leadoff, having the ability to maybe have a team where you can hit him down in the order will help. He is going to have to make some adjustments."

Pedroia is expected to hit ninth for the Red Sox.

"There's a lot of things about this kid that we really like, and I don't think any of us have a problem giving him a chance to play," Francona said. "We just have to be realistic and be patient, because whatever number he ends up being, career-wise, you may not see that in April or May. So we have to be smart enough to know that."

There was a significant learning curve for Pedroia after he joined the Red Sox on Aug. 22, for the duration of the 2006 season. He hit .191 in 89 at-bats.

"I think he's ready to earn an opportunity," said Epstein. "He still needs to show up in Spring Training in great shape, having worked hard this winter, and play well. But certainly I think, if he earns it and he's given the opportunity, that he has a chance to do some good things. He can contribute to a winning team."

When you talk about winning teams, you need winning players, and nobody would dispute that Alex Cora is one of them. Cora re-upped with the Sox this winter for two years, and he'll continue to serve as a super-sub off the bench.

Cora will rotate between shortstop and second base and also get an occasional inning or start at third base.

His specialty is his attention to detail. If you need someone to move a runner over, Cora is your man. Ditto for dropping down a sacrifice bunt.

Ian Browne is a reporter for This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.