The Red Sox continued remaking their infield today, a day after acquiring second baseman Mark Loretta from the Padres, and just weeks after picking up third baseman Mike Lowell from Florida.
Yes, the Sox finally pulled the trigger on the deal that sends Error Renteria to Atlanta, for 22-year-old Andy Marte, one of the Braves’ top prospects the last few years. With Chipper Jones having a contractual agreement to man third base for the Braves for the foreseeable future, Marte was deemed expendable by Atlanta. One Braves executive called him "probably the best player we've ever traded."
Though he'll likely begin the year in Triple A, the Red Sox hope to have Marte on the big league roster at some point next season. Because he's rated as an average defensive third baseman, the Sox expect to try him out at first base at Pawtuckett. Marte's strength is as a run producer, where he has considerable upside.
Some had speculated that the Sox might turn around and flip Marte in another deal, perhaps to the Devil Rays for Julio Lugo, but that is not the case. Red Sox senior adviser Bill Lajoie was quick to dispel that rumor.
"We want to keep that player. ... He's ready to have a good year," said Lajoie. "He would be one of the five players you would want to start a ballclub with."
Lajoie said he expected to see Marte play for the Red Sox this year -- either in the outfield or first base -- because of his great offensive potential. He projects Marte as a 25-30 home run player in the near future. Last season, Marte batted .275 with 20 homers and 74 RBIs in 109 games in Triple-A, and .140 with no homers and four RBIs in 24 games with the Braves. So he's yet to prove that he can match his minor league numbers at the big league level.
Unfortunately, the Red Sox agreed to pay $11 million of the remaining $32 million left on Renteria’s contract ($29 million over three years plus a $3 million buyout -- his deal has a club option for 2009). It's strange that the Sox capitulated to the Braves demand considering that owner John Henry has gone on the record as being opposed to paying former Red Sox to play for other teams. Furthermore, the Sox reportedly lost out on Milwaukee first baseman Lyle Overbay because they would not pick up enough of the $19 million that remains on Matt Clement’s contract over the next two seasons.
The upside to all these moves is that the Sox have thus far managed to pull off all their acquisitions without trading a single everyday player. Instead, they gave up some minor league prospects -- meaning players with "potential" but no evidence of Major League effectiveness -- and a back-up catcher, Doug Mirabelli.
The 35-year-old Mirabelli is a career .241 hitter, but in 4 1/2 years with the Sox he hit just .228. However Mirabelli's strength is his defensive prowess, particularly his ability to catch knuckleballer Tim Wakefield. The two had developed a strong working relationship in their years together. Now that needs to be replaced.
The Sox will weigh Wakefield’s input before signing a new backup catcher. The most likely scenario would be a free agent, such as Ken Huckaby, who played for Toronto last season and was the MVP on the 2001 silver-medal Team USA managed by Terry Francona. The Sox will also consider Kelly Shoppach for the role but the young backstop may well be part of a future trade. He's got to be given a chance to prove his big league readiness somewhere, or else his stock will drop. Apparently Sox special assistant Craig Shipley thinks that time is now.
“When you talk about Kelly Shoppach, you’re talking about someone with 20-plus home runs the last two years in Triple-A,” Shipley said. “He’s a good commodity to have and he’s ready for the big leagues.”
There is, however, some potential downside. Though the Sox have addressed some urgent needs in the starting rotation, bullpen, plus second and third bases, they still have questions remaining at first and short -- not to mention center field becasue Johnny Damon remains unsigned. The team that takes the field next April will barely resemble the one that ended this past season, much less the one that won the World Series in 2004. For starters, their entire infield will have been remade - all four positions. That's a remarkable off season transformation, and the Sox can only hope that the new players find a chemistry amongst them that makes all of this work out for the best.
Though Lowell and Loretta have great histories, Lowell is coming off a career-worst season, and Loretta will be returning from thumb surgery. The Sox could be playing Kevin Youkilis at first, a position at which he's never been a regular. In fact, Youkilis has yet to play a full season as a starter at any position. And the Sox are at least considering the idea of platooning him and Marte at first. You'd have to think that the Sox still have their eye on a veteran first baseman with power, but they're hard to come by this year. Got any ideas? The Rangers' Adrian Gonzalez, who's name has come up in trade talks, has never played a full season in the bigs either, and as such is still an unproven talent himself.
David Wells is sure to be dealt, and either Matt Clement or Bronson Arroyo could join him on the way out the door.
And then there's the outfield. The Damon situation remains fluid, though I believe the Sox will eventually resign him. Manny's wife wants him out of Boston -- though I think that he too will be back next season -- and Trot Nixon's name keeps coming up in trade rumors. If any of the three change uniforms that would just add to the incredible amount of change already begun. As it stands, half the everyday position players will be newcomers when the season gets underway in April.
Let's hope that the new guys can help rekindle some of the old magic and spark from 2004. And let's also hope that there's enough of the core players left from that Championship season to show them how.
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