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Cardinals add depth in trade for Lugo

Cardinals add depth in trade for Lugo

HOUSTON -- Hours after optioning Chris Duncan to Triple-A Memphis, the Cardinals announced that they had traded the outfielder to the Red Sox for veteran infielder Julio Lugo on Wednesday. St. Louis will receive significant cash considerations in the deal, and Boston will receive either a player to be named later or some of that cash in return.

Lugo offers additional depth for St. Louis, especially at shortstop, where the cupboard is currently all but bare behind starter Brendan Ryan. Duncan, meanwhile, gets a change of scenery after spending parts of five seasons in the same organization where his father is the pitching coach. Duncan became an extremely polarizing figure among the team's fan base, but within the clubhouse, he was one of the most well regarded players to don a St. Louis uniform.

"Has anybody ever seen him once not run the ball out? Not once," said manager Tony La Russa. "He's the hardest-playing guy. He's a great teammate. He's exactly what the Cardinals pride themselves on."

Lugo was designated for assignment by the Red Sox on Friday. He's been reasonably productive at the plate this year, batting .284 with a .352 on-base percentage and a .367 slugging percentage. However, his range has diminished in the field following a left quadriceps injury last summer and right knee surgery earlier this year. Still, for a Cardinals team that as of Tuesday had no true backup shortstop on the roster, Lugo likely represents an upgrade.

Meanwhile, Lugo should also improve the club's offense against left-handed pitchers. Lugo is batting .333 with a .444 OBP against lefties this year and managed a .391 OBP against left-handers in 2008. The Cardinals, meanwhile, rank at the bottom of the National League in batting average and slugging percentage against lefties, and third-to-last in OBP against lefties.

The Cards hope Lugo will be available on Thursday in Washington. In the interim, Brian Barden was called up to take Duncan's spot on the roster. It's uncertain what move will be made to accommodate Lugo when he is added. Boston will assume nearly all of Lugo's remaining salary, which is approximately $13 million through 2010.

"We were just trying to position it that we could make this happen," general manager John Mozeliak said. "I do know that they had other teams that were engaged on this."

Khalil Greene, whom St. Louis acquired over the past winter to be its starting shortstop, has missed much of the season as he tries to manage an anxiety disorder. Rookie Tyler Greene showed flashes of ability but ultimately struggled at the big league level.

"The reason we pursued it was because we have question marks at shortstop in terms of what happens if Brendan can't go," Mozeliak said. "Obviously, we also still have questions with Khalil Greene, and it seemed like this would help solidify that position."

Duncan, 28, underwent a rare surgical procedure over the winter, having a titanium disk inserted in his neck. He started the season well, hitting .304 and slugging .522 in April. Since then, though, he has steadily trended downward. In May, Duncan hit .227 and slugged .386, and in June his slugging percentage fell all the way to .289. Duncan is 1-for-31 since June 29.

Through it all, though, he remained a popular and admired teammate, and more than one Cardinals player was distressed by the news that Duncan is heading east.

"I love Dunc," said Ryan Ludwick. "From day one when I got here, he's always been a huge supporter of mine. As good a teammate as you can get. He went through a little rough spell here recently, and it's tough to see. Because he's a guy that every time he takes the field, you know he's giving you his all. In the outfield, he'll run through walls for you. He's just, he's awesome, man. He's a great dude."

On Tuesday, La Russa angrily criticized portions of the St. Louis fan base and media who, in his opinion, have singled out Duncan unfairly as opposed to other Cardinals players who have slumped at the plate this year.

Matthew Leach is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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