Atlanta Braves’ Manager Bobby Cox hated losing Rafael Furcal so much he convinced General Manager John Schuerholz to go get him another veteran shortstop.
And Thursday morning, Schuerholz granted Cox’s wish.
BravesCenter.com has learned that the Braves have acquired four-time All-Star shortstop Edgar Renteria from the Boston Red Sox in exchange for third base prospect Andy Marte. Boston will also pay part of Renteria’s salary for the remainder of the four years (including an option year) left on the contract he signed with the Red Sox last winter. Details of what the Red Sox are paying will be announced later.
Renteria struggled in his only year in Boston, hitting only .276 with 8 home runs, 70 RBI, and 30 errors in the field. The 30-year-old right-handed hitter never fit in with the wild atmosphere in Boston, after spending his first nine seasons in the tame media markets of Florida and St. Louis.
A two-time winner of the Silver Slugger Award, signifying the best hitter at his position, Renteria also won two Gold Glove Awards in 2002 and 2003. Renteria’s best season was in 2003, when he hit .330 with 13 home runs, 100 RBI, 34 stolen bases, and a .394 on base percentage.
Marte has been a top prospect for many years, bursting onto the scene in 2002 with an exceptional season in Macon. He hit .281 with 21 home runs and 105 RBI. Then in Myrtle Beach the next season, Marte hit .285 with 16 home runs and 63 RBI in 463 at bats. Marte then shined in AA Greenville in 2004, hitting .296 with 23 home runs and 68 RBI. And then this past season, he spent much of the year in AAA Richmond, hitting .275 with 20 home runs and 74 runs batted in.
The Braves promoted Marte to Atlanta on two different occasions. He hit only .140 with 4 RBI in 57 at bats. Some worried that Marte was overwhelmed in the big leagues, but his numbers were compared to the Braves’ other rookies, most of whom had remarkable debuts in the big leagues.
After the loss of Rafael Furcal to the Dodgers via free agency, most believed that the Braves would look internally and give the job to Wilson Betemit. But Cox and several members of the Braves’ front office had questions about whether or not Betemit could handle the full-time job at shortstop. Some even believe, with Betemit growing taller the last few years, that he has outgrown the position and is better off at third base.
Cox has always preferred his up-the-middle defense to be as solid as possible, and the Braves believe Renteria will stabilize the infield after losing Furcal. While Renteria did lead the league with 30 errors, the Braves are convinced that was due to his unhappiness in Boston. Renteria had made only 27 errors in his last two years with the Cardinals, and he won two Gold Gloves while playing in St. Louis.
Marte was more expendable with the recent move by Chipper Jones to restructure his contract, which ensures Jones will be the Braves’ third baseman for the next three seasons. Even though he had been tried in the outfield last winter, Marte was unable to convince the Braves he could play first base or the outfield, and after having Jones in left field for a couple of seasons, there was little doubt that he had returned to third base for good.
The Braves believe they have two other third base prospects to replace Marte behind Jones on the organizational depth chart. Eric Campbell, who had a fantastic season in Danville in 2005, and Van Pope, who played in Myrtle Beach and Rome last season, are both solid prospects. Campbell has been compared to former Giant’ third baseman Matt Williams, and he should be ready once Jones’ contract is up in three or four years.
Now that the team has replaced Furcal, it can now continue to search for a closer. After the Wednesday trade of Johnny Estrada, the Braves are also in need of a veteran, backup catcher. With Julio Franco no longer an option after the team refused to offer him arbitration late Wednesday night, the Braves will now look for a backup at first. Nomar Garciaparra, whose agents met with the Braves Wednesday afternoon, is an option. Two other right-handed hitting first basemen to keep in mind are former Marlin Jeff Conine and former White Sox’ star Frank Thomas.
Bill Shanks is the author of Scout's Honor: The Bravest Way To Build A Winning Team, a look inside the Braves‘ traditional scouting and player development philosophies. You can email Bill at firstname.lastname@example.org.