Concerned about their middle-infield depth, especially given second baseman Brian Roberts' precarious health situation, the Orioles acquired veteran infielder Julio Lugo from the St. Louis Cardinals on Thursday for a future player or cash considerations.
Lugo, 34, is expected to start the season as the club's utility infielder and key insurance policy in case shortstop Cesar Izturis or Roberts, who has battled a herniated disk in his back this spring, needs a break.
"I think it's prudent that we are going to have to pick our spots to make sure [Roberts] gets adequate rest," said Andy MacPhail, the club's president of baseball operations. "And that's another reason where Julio makes sense for us."
To make room for Lugo on the 40-man roster, the club designated first baseman Michael Aubrey for assignment. They'll have 10 days to trade, release or ask waivers on Aubrey, who played in 31 games for the Orioles in 2009 but already had been optioned to Triple-A Norfolk. The Lugo trade first had to be approved by the commissioner's office because Lugo still has $8.6 million left on a four-year, $36 million contract that he signed with the Boston Red Sox in December 2006. Boston paid the Cardinals for the bulk of the contract, and now St. Louis will pay the Orioles what's left.
As part of this deal, the Orioles owe Lugo only the league minimum of $400,000. The Orioles could pay the Cardinals an additional undisclosed amount if they don't send them a player, who likely would be a marginal prospect, later this year.
Lugo batted .280 in 293 plate appearances for the Red Sox and Cardinals in 2009. He is a lifetime .271 hitter in 10 big league seasons and has started at every position on a big league diamond besides first base and catcher.
"It makes sense for us because he can give us some depth at both middle-infield positions," 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 move likely costs Robert Andino, the Orioles' utility infielder last season, his spot on the Opening Day roster -- and possibly in the organization. Andino is out of options, so if the Orioles can't trade him, he would have to clear waivers before they could send him down to the minors. Technically, they won't have to make a move with Andino until rosters have to be set at 3 p.m. Sunday.
"We will see how that plays out," MacPhail said. "We still have some moving pieces, and we will see how that shakes out here in the next week."
Orioles manager Dave Trembley wouldn't comment specifically on how he will use Lugo until another move -- presumably one involving Andino -- is made. Andino, 25, hit .235 in 51 at-bats this spring. He also made four errors, including two in Wednesday's game against the Boston Red Sox.
"I don't think it is about Andino," Trembley said. "What you are looking for is to put the best nine guys out there each and every game." Approached before Thursday's Orioles game in Port Charlotte against the Tampa Bay Rays, Andino said he hadn't been told anything about his future with the team.
"It caught me by surprise, yeah," Andino said. "But it is out of your hands. You can't do nothing. ... It's out of my control. My job is to go out there and play. That's it."
In response to the Lugo news, Andino homered in his second at-bat Thursday, his third home run of the spring. He batted .222 with two homers in 198 big league at-bats in 2009. Thursday marked his Andino's one-year anniversary with the Orioles; he was acquired from the Florida Marlins for Hayden Penn on April 1, 2009. So, he said, he wasn't bothered by the thought of switching teams again.
"This ain't my first rodeo," he said.
Lugo could get his first regular-season action with the Orioles next week against the Rays if Trembley decides to keep Roberts off the Tropicana Field artificial turf for one game.
"The turf could factor into it with B-Rob," Trembley said. "But I want to get there on Monday [for the team workout] and then play on Tuesday and see how he responds."
Former teammates rave about Lugo's energy and ability, but he did run into off-field trouble in April 2003 that cost him his job with the Houston Astros. Lugo was arrested in connection with the alleged assault of his wife in the Minute Maid Park parking lot, but a jury later found him not guilty after his wife said she exaggerated the story.
"We've had some people that are familiar with him that speak highly of him," MacPhail said. "I know there have been episodes in that past, but they're pretty distant past now. And most of the stuff we got has been positive on that account."
He has been with four teams since and has had no off-field incidents.
"Lugo is a fun, energetic guy. I think everybody learned to appreciate him," said Orioles infielder Ty Wigginton, who played with Lugo in Tampa Bay in 2006. "He is definitely an exciting ballplayer, and he is fun to have around."