Wednesday, December 15, 2004

Renteria to Own?

Edgar Renteria was a key contributor to my 2003 fantasy league champion Porlock Lycanthropes. He did everything that year: hit for average, hit for power, stole bases, and played exceptional defense. There were even a few days in June that year when I could actually see my floor. I can't prove this, of course, but I suspect Renteria must have taken time off from interleague play to tidy up around here when I wasn't looking.

He wasn't nearly the player in 2004 he was in 2003; all of the key production numbers were down, on top of which my apartment's a total sty. If you go by his adjusted OPS last season, Renteria was technically a below-average hitter, although I suspect he'd still stack up quite well compared to other shortstops. Granted, 2003 might have been a career year for him, but he's still too young to assume that his marked drop-off in 2004 is definitive. Split the difference between the last two seasons, and you come up with something remarkably like his 2002 campaign (.364 OBP/.439 SLG/ .803 OPS), which was still mighty good for a slick-fielding middle infielder.

On the whole, then, I'm happy with the move, considered exclusively on its own terms. Ten million per is a lot to shell out, but if Nomar's worth eight mil in 2005, I can see why one might think Renteria (younger, more durable) would be worth a little more. Considering the move in a larger context--examining not just the splash but the ripples--things get a little more complicated. Signing Renteria creates an intriguing possibility, but it also raises a crucial question.

First, the intriguing possibility. As has been widely noted, with Renteria in place Hanley Ramirez becomes primo trade bait. I'm fine with this, especially if he becomes part of a package that lands Tim Hudson. I'd be less fine with it if he is part of a deal that brings back A. J. Burnett, but I'd cope.

Now for the crucial question. Let's play the old Rob Neyer Player A/ Player B game.

Player A 2003 .394 .480 .874
Player A 2004 .327 .401 .728

Player B 2003 .351 .512 .863
Player B 2004 .390 .482 .872

Player A is Edgar Renteria. Player B is Jason Varitek.

I won't pretend that this is an easy calculation. Renteria's younger, more versatile offensively, and a better defender. Varitek's more consistently productive, a tremendous force in the clubhouse, and has proven capable of enduring the scrutiny generated by a passionate but demanding fan-base. Until yesterday, I though that the four years and 36 million the Sox had offered Varitek was more than fair, and I understood the reluctance to budge on it since no one else is really in the bidding at this point. But why is someone who's never played an inning for you at a position for which there are other options (Cabrera, for instance) worth more than a guy who's been taking bullets for you for seven years, was instrumental to an immortal season, and has no obvious replacement either in free agency or through a trade? Despite what you might have heard, A. J. Pierzynski is not a legitimate replacement, (scroll for it) even at the low low price of 1.5 million.

I get it. You don't simply roll over a twenty-five man roster from year to year, even if that roster wins it all. I knew going in that we weren't bringing back all of the big three. Is it possible, though, that in signing Renteria the Red Sox have guaranteed that none of them will be back?


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