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Fear the champagne? Why Lopez landed in Boston, not San Diego

09.25.10 at 4:58 pm ET
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NEW YORK — From coast to coast and in between, Felipe Lopez‘€™s name has mentioned in baseball talks throughout the country. In a matter of four days, he was placed on release waivers by the St. Louis Cardinals, claimed by the San Diego Padres, rejected that claim to make himself a free agent and then signed by the Boston Red Sox.

With just over a week go to in the regular season, Lopez suited up in his seventh uniform in 10 years. The veteran infielder joined the Red Sox at Yankee Stadium on Saturday. At first glance, the decision seemed puzzling, given that Lopez passed on an opportunity to play for a team (the Padres) in the thick of a pennant race in favor of one (the Red Sox) that stands on the cusp of elimination.

Yet the 30-year-old said that the Sox offered a level of comfort that San Diego could not. Even though the Padres are in the thick of the Wild Card and NL West races, Lopez didn’€™t feel comfortable jumping in this late in the season.

‘€œI know a lot of people here, good friends here, and I’€™ve always wanted to play here,’€œ Lopez said. ‘€œNothing against San Diego. They’€™ve got something going on over there and I don’€™t want to just come [for the] last nine games and not feel like I’€™m part of it. If they win, celebrating, popping champagne, I don’€™t want to be the only one like, ‘€˜OK, guys, good luck.’€™ I just don’€™t, I don’€™t like that.’€

And so, Lopez opted to spend the final days of a season that has featured its share of frustrations with the Sox. After a 2009 campaign in which he batted .310, he averaged just .231 in 109 games for the Cardinals. Lopez struggled with the inconsistency of coming off the bench.

Off the field Lopez was tardy, as St. Louis general manager John Mozeliak previously told the media, on more than one occasion. He was released a day after arriving late for a game.

Lopez, who made it clear that he does not have ill-will toward the Cardinals, says his challenges began before the season even started. In spite of a standout season in 2009, he was not signed until late February of 2010, dangling in the wind until St. Louis extended a one-year, $1 million offer to the 2005 All-Star.

‘€œWhat happened to me in the off-season, that was kind of tough for me,’€ he said. ‘€œBeing the last guy signed, especially with the year I had, that was kind of tough for me. And then being a backup player, utility, after the year that I had, that was tough. Just not playing, that was tough. But I guess anything can happen so you learn from it, keep my mouth shut, keep going.’€

When Lopez rejected the Padres’ waiver claim, he became a free agent and relinquished the remainder of his guaranteed salary. The Sox will guaranteed him the money that he would have made had he gone to San Diego (roughly $50,000). The team is unsure what role he might have for the rest of this year, suggesting that with Marco Scutaro struggling with his injured rotator cuff, Lopez — who has played second, third and short as well as a bit of outfield — could represent an insurance option.

“Kind of happened quick,” said Sox manager Terry Francona. “With [Scutaro] kind of scuffling a little bit, we’€™re not sure how much we’€™re going to play him, Felipe became available. … I’€™m sure we’€™d like to watch him play a little bit. I just don’€™t know how much. Some of that will depend on the health of others.”

Regardless of the benefit that Lopez offers the Sox over the rest of the year, he could impact them in 2011 and beyond. There is a good chance that his production over the last two years will lead to him being classified as a Type B free agent, meaning that if the Red Sox offered him arbitration and he rejected such an offer to sign with another team, the Sox would get a draft pick in the supplemental first round. (Because the pick would be awarded by Major League Baseball, and wouldn’t come from another club, an arbitration offer would not impact Lopez’ market negatively.)

Lopez hopes to make the most of the remaining games. He isn’€™t particular about which position he’€™ll play.

‘€œI like playing. When I’€™m in there, like a consistent basis, I’€™m a pretty good player,’€ he said.

Lopez believes he can learn from the veterans’€™ leadership and experience. He is living in the moment rather than focusing on where he will be playing next season.

‘€œI’€™m just here,’€ he said. ‘€œI’€™m enjoying it so far. They’€™re giving me a chance to play. I’€™ll try to do my best. I’€™m just looking forward to these last nine games, take as much as I can from it, and have fun.’€

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