Boston Red Sox

Boston Red Sox

Tuesday, December 13, 2005

A LOW R.O.I. CAN LEAD TO PANICKED SELLING

I guess it should be considered a vote of no confidence.

The Sox traded Edgar "the Error" Renteria to the Braves last week, and had to assume millions in salary, signing bonuses and trade bonuses to make it happen. When it was all said and done, the Sox paid $23 million for exactly one year of Renteria's services. The Braves, meanwhile, get a former All Star, and two-time Gold Glove winner, for just $18 million over three years. Yeah, that 's just $6 million per season -- well below market value for front-line shortstops. Consider this: the Braves previous shortstop, Rafael Furcal, just signed a three-year, $39 million deal with the Dodgers.

Well, maybe Sox fans don't consider Renteria a front-line shortstop anymore after witnessing his Major League leading 30 error nightmare in Boston this season. And it seems that Red Sox management didn't either. The club clearly expected much more than the .276 average, 8 HR, 70 RBI, and 100 strike outs they got for their $40 million investment.

But put the errors aside -- if you can manage to do that -- and Renteria's numbers weren't all that bad. The only truly horrible number was his exorbitant price tag. If Renteria had made, say, $5 million last season, then his 172 hits, 100 runs, and 36 doubles (second on the team behind Ortiz's 40) would have seemed like a great deal. But since he made twice that, there were much higher expectations of him as a result. So, after not meeting those expectations he was unceremoniously ushered out of town, and now the Braves appear to have gotten themselves quite a bargain in return.

The deal was clearly a vote of no confidence in Renteria. However it's rationalized -- he's old, he couldn't handle AL pitching, he couldn't handle the pressure and scrutiny of the Boston media and fans -- no one could justify the Sox paying Renteria that much money to play in Boston for what they got in return. The problem is that the Sox are paying him millions not to play in Boston, and they don't even have a replacement for him yet. They entered the off season needing a first baseman and a third baseman, and now, with the conclusion of the Winter Meetings, they still need a first baseman, plus a shortstop to boot. Well, hopefully not to boot -- Renteria did enough of that. So it's hard to tell whether this has been a productive off season, or not. Some questions may have been answered, but an equal number have been raised.

But the trade of Renteria could also be viewed as a vote of no confidence in Theo Epstein. Renteria was his boy, his grand off season acquisition just a year ago. And his other big signing after the 2004 campaign - Matt Clement - is another guy who arrived with a lot hype, but who seriously underperformed and is also grossly overpaid.

The Sox have made it clear to anyone who's listening that Clement, and the $19 million that is owed to him over the next two years, is very available. That's the thing with three and four year deals; you don't get much time to prove yourself and there's no room for "off years." One bad year is a quarter to a third of the contract, and that's just not acceptable. So the Sox want to cut bait and run.

But just think about what they're willing to accept in return. It seems kind of desperate. The Sox took Andy Marte who is entirely unproven at the big league level -- unless of course you count his dismal performance when he was called up to Atlanta this year. Undoubtedly, Marte could realize his great potential and develop into a future star for the Sox, but that isn't guaranteed. He'll likely start the year at Pawtucket while the Sox are paying some of Renteria's salary to help the Braves compete for another NL East title.

And now, while planning for the possible departure of Johnny Damon, the Red Sox have apparently discussed a deal with the Mariners that would send Clement to Seattle for 24-year-old center fielder Jeremy Reed. Yes, that's right, the great Jeremy Reed who hit .254 with 3 homers, 45 RBIs, and a .322 on-base percentage last season. Woo hoo! Let's try to contain ourselves. In truth, that's nothing but a contract dump -- unless the Sox get screwed again and have to ante up some of Clement's salary in order to get Seattle to take him.

What's going on here? Theo's two big free agent pick-ups being kicked to the curb after just one year? Wow. That hardly seems like a ringing endorsement of Theo's strategy - what ever that was. But the Sox could also be seen as quite sensibly cutting their losses and moving on. And perhaps Theo has endorsed, or even orchestrated, these moves from behind the scenes. Maybe he realizes his mistakes and wants to put them behind him, and the team. After all, there's no getting around the fact that Clement faltered miserably in the season's second half (5.72 ERA), and imploded in his only playoff start. In that game he allowed more earned runs than any Sox pitcher in postseason history. Ouch.

So are these good moves, or desperate moves? At this point it's hard to say, but I'm leaning toward desperate. Perhaps Marte will pan out, and we may even get a chance to find out next year. But Jeremy Reed in return for Matt Clement? Give me a break. Lyle Overbay, a proven commodity, would have been a reasonable return if the Brewers had been willing to pick up all of Clement's remaining salary. But unfortunately they weren't. If the Sox are willing to accept so little in return for a starting pitcher -- and no matter how bad Clement was, starting pitching is still hard to come by -- then someone else better be picking up the tab on what remains of his contract.

If that happens, and the Sox are able to go out and land a better starting pitcher -- like AL ERA king Kevin Milwood -- who would improve their rotation, then I'm all for it. Otherwise, why get screwed twice? Once for overpaying these guys in the first place, and a second time for paying them to play for someone else while getting no proven commodities in return.

The problem with Renteria and Clement wasn't their respective performances, it's how little return the Red Sox got for their investments. The least the Sox can do now is try to get something decent in return for Clement to make up for his losses -- both literal and figurative. Yes, pun intended.

Copyright © 2005 Kennedy's Commentary. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed without the author's consent.

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