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Rangers look to fill infield void

Rangers look to fill infield void

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SURPRISE, Ariz. -- Cardinals infielder Julio Lugo may be the most interesting name that arises as the Rangers assess their utility infield situation.

He is somebody they have talked about internally.

Lugo was the Cardinals utility infielder in the final two-plus months of last season after being acquired from the Red Sox. But he is expected to lose significant playing time after the Cardinals signed free agent infielder Felipe Lopez last week.

The Rangers are concerned about their utility infield situation after Khalil Greene did not report to camp because of social anxiety disorder. The Rangers voided his contract last week and are proceeding with the idea that Greene will not be in camp at all.

That has created two spots of concern on the bench: utility infielder and a right-handed-hitting corner infielder. The Rangers hoped that Greene could be an option in both areas. Now they are re-assessing the situation and early confidence that the roles could be filled from within may be eroding. The Rangers are looking around the league to see what's available among infielders and the Cardinals may likely make Lugo available at some point this spring.

"Our goal is to see if we can find the right combination of guys to give [manager Ron Washington] the most options and flexibility," Rangers general manager Jon Daniels said Monday. "We've still got a half-dozen guys internally we're looking at and our scouts are in town. That will be a focus as we see if there is an upgrade out there. It might be the guys in camp who are deserving of the job."

The Cardinals actually acquired Lugo last year to fill a need when Greene first experienced social anxiety order last summer while playing for them. He is being paid $9 million this season but the Red Sox are already picking up most of that as a condition to last year's trade.

Lugo is a 10-year veteran who was the Red Sox starting shortstop on their 2007 World Series championship team. Most of his career has been as a shortstop. He is 34 and there is some concern about diminished range but the Rangers are just looking for someone who can hold down the position and give Elvis Andrus a day off.

"We just need somebody who can make some defensive plays," Washington said.

The Rangers' leading candidates from within are Joaquin Arias, Ray Olmedo and Esteban German. Arias has the defensive skills for shortstop but there are questions about his throwing ability after going through three years of shoulder problems. Washington has been monitoring his throwing closely.

"I really thought the way he was throwing the ball the other day was sufficient," Washington said. "He's just got to maintain his arm strength and continue to improve. He's healthy. I don't think his arm is a problem. It is what it is. I've seen him throw from all the angles. We'll play it out and see where it goes,"

Other names could emerge from the outside. The Rangers talked to the Diamondbacks about Augie Ojeda last winter and those discussions could be renewed. The Dodgers have extra infielders and the Pirates may be willing to talk about Ramon Vazquez, who played for the Rangers in 2007-08.

But the Rangers also need a right-handed corner infielder who can spell Chris Davis at first base against left-handed pitchers. Matt Brown, who is in camp on a Minor League contract, has some impressive numbers against left-handed pitchers in the Minors and had a home run off Kasey Kiker in Monday's intrasquad game.

He hit .303 with a .495 slugging percentage against left-handers at Triple-A Salt Lake City last year and .325 with a .608 slugging percentage against them in 2008. He can play both first and third base. He was at third base in the intrasquad game and started a 5-4-3 double play on a Vladimir Guerrero grounder in the first.

"Ideally I'd love to see myself as a guy off the bench," Brown said. "I will do everything they want for me to make the team."

The Rangers are also looking at Max Ramirez for that spot. He is a catcher who is working out at first base. He was a sensation for the Rangers in 2008 when he hit .347 with 19 home runs and 57 RBIs in 337 Minor League at-bats.

But he hit just .230 with five home runs and 45 RBIs in 81 games and 337 at-bats last year while dealing with a pair of wrist injuries. He was much better in Winter Ball in Venezuela, hitting .252 with 13 home runs and 36 RBI in 59 games and 210 at-bat.

There is still a matter of learning how to play first base.

What the Rangers need is a right-handed-hitting infielder who can play first and third base. That's why they pushed hard to trade Ramirez to the Red Sox for infielder Mike Lowell. That trade fell apart when Lowell needed thumb surgery. It could be revived later this spring if he proves healthy.

Lugo and Lowell were the left side of the Red Sox infield when they won the World Series in 2007. Three years later, they might fit nicely together on the Rangers bench.

T.R. Sullivan 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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