Lugo dealt from Cardinals to Orioles

Lugo dealt from Cardinals to Orioles

JUPITER, Fla. -- Looking at an unidentified role with the club but with aspirations of playing every day, Julio Lugo -- sporting street clothes and a wide smile -- mingled around the Cardinals' clubhouse at Roger Dean Stadium on Thursday morning while his teammates got dressed for their final Grapefruit League game and said his goodbyes.

Lugo was informed earlier that he had been traded to the Orioles and is now looking at a more prominent role. Baltimore gets Lugo and cash considerations in the trade, while the Cardinals have until early May to decide whether they'll take a player to be named later or cash.

Heading into Spring Training, Lugo was set to be the Cardinals' backup infielder. But the acquisition of Felipe Lopez in late February meant Lugo didn't have an identified role off the bench.

Before he walked out the door on Thursday morning, though, Lugo had nothing but good things to say about the Cardinals.

"They were honest to me," Lugo said. "They did everything they told me they were going to do. It didn't work out here. They told me if I get a better situation, they were going to trade me. I'm happy they did it.

"I have a lot of respect for those guys, and I loved it here. I wish I could come back. I really liked it over here. This is one of the best places I've been."

With Lugo gone, the Cardinals' 25-man roster -- barring injuries -- is set.

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Allen Craig, Nick Stavinoha and Joe Mather -- who were competing for the final two reserve spots -- will all make the team. Craig and Mather each have experience as corner infielders and could be the second backup to Lopez, who could end up getting 400 to 500 at-bats this season.

Cardinals manager Tony La Russa told the three of them on Wednesday and called the meeting "a nice experience."

La Russa praised Lugo on Thursday, talking about how the veteran came to camp in great shape and said from the beginning that he wanted to win an everyday job. With Brendan Ryan entrenched as the shortstop and Skip Schumaker the second baseman, that was not possible.

So, Lugo's role would've been as the utility man. But that was also a problem because the 34-year-old right-handed hitter can really only play the middle infield.

"We were asking him to do something that was not going to be what he wants to be," La Russa said. "And he's been, in his career, he's been an everyday player.

"He acknowledged that he wanted to play a prominent role, and it was going to be one of those cases where, utility, you use Aaron Miles, Miguel Cairo and Eddie Perez as examples. Those guys get three hits, and the next day they don't play. And that's a tough adjustment for most guys."

Cardinals general manager John Mozeliak said that after the club acquired Lopez, he was approached by Lugo, who asked whether there was a way he could be moved elsewhere so he could get more playing time.

Eventually, the pieces fell into place for that to happen.

"I was OK with that, as long as the club unfolded the way it did," Mozeliak said. "That's why we waited until just kind of the final days before Spring Training to finally do something.

"When we picked up Lopez, who's a switch-hitter, and obviously going from the left side, he's going to get predominantly more playing time. So, that just didn't play very well for Lugo in this situation, and I think he was looking for a place where he can get more at-bats."

Lugo is owed $9 million this season, and he has a $9 million vesting option for 2011 that's unreachable because he hasn't compiled the necessary plate appearances since 2007. The Red Sox are on the hook for almost all of Lugo's 2010 salary.

Acquired from Boston in exchange for Chris Duncan in late July, Lugo batted .280 with three homers and 21 RBIs in 88 games this past season.

This spring, he battled a groin injury and hit .242 in 10 games.

"Hopefully it's a plus for him," Ryan said. "Hopefully he's going to get a chance to play wherever he's going to go. It's weird to say that because I play middle infield, too. But we're all going to miss him. I think we all liked him, and we wish him the best."

With the Orioles, Brian Roberts has been slowed by a herniated disk in his lower back this spring. So, worst-case scenario, Lugo comes in as the backup middle infielder to Roberts and shortstop Cesar Izturis.

That means current backup middle infielder Robert Andino, who is out of options, could be on his way out.

"It makes sense for us because he can give us some depth at both middle infield positions," Orioles president of baseball operations Andy MacPhail said.

"He was productive offensively last year, and he's been a productive offensive player. As I said before, he's just a better fit for us right now."

The trade pretty much went down on Wednesday afternoon, when Lugo was called into Mozeliak's office and was told his days with St. Louis were numbered.

Now, he's hoping for a better opportunity.

"You never know what's the best until you're there," Lugo said, still speaking in generalities. "So, we'll see. I like Tony, I like [Mozeliak], I like the guys over here, and I like the team. We'll see what happens."

Alden Gonzalez is a reporter for MLB.com. Brittany Ghiroli contributed to this report. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.