When the Boston Red Sox finally finish cobbling together a team for next season, it will be significantly different from the club that won it all last year and came up short last season. No, these are not Theo Epstein's Red Sox anymore.
By trading shortstop Edgar Renteria and money to the Atlanta Braves for the prized minor league third baseman Andy Marte on Thursday, the Red Sox guaranteed that they would have four new starters in the infield in April. But they are unsure if Johnny Damon will be back in center field, they are trying to deal an unhappy Manny Ramirez and David Wells, and they still do not have a general manager.
The Red Sox expressed their dissatisfaction with Renteria by trading him, and they may have been sending a subtle message to Epstein, the former general manager, too. By unloading a player Epstein valued enough to invest US$40 million in a year ago, the Red Sox emphasized that a different regime was in place, even if many of the Red Sox people involved in Thursday's trade also worked with Epstein.
"Edgar is a very good player," said Craig Shipley, a special assistant in Boston's front office. "But when you get a chance to get a player like Marte, you have to look at it long and hard."
As baseball executives hustled home Thursday from the winter meetings at the Wyndham Anatole Hotel, Brian Cashman, the general manager of the Yankees, was in the lobby talking to four officials from the Red Sox. Cashman could have asked them who was going to play shortstop for Boston in 2006. Or first base, or center field or left field. The Red Sox, in turn, could have asked Cashman about his hole in center field. But clearly, the Red Sox situation is far more unresolved.
Although Shipley mentioned Mark Loretta, Tony Graffanino and Alex Cora as candidates to play shortstop Thursday, the Red Sox were more likely to pursue the free agent Alex Gonzalez, most recently of the Florida Marlins. Loretta is a solid second baseman whom Boston acquired from the San Diego Padres on Wednesday; Graffanino was a second baseman for the Red Sox last season; and Cora is a utility player. The Red Sox offered Graffanino salary arbitration Wednesday, but he is not assured of returning.
Hanley Ramirez, a slick minor league shortstop, would have been a strong choice to succeed Renteria. But Ramirez was traded to Florida last month in a deal that sent pitcher Josh Beckett and third baseman Mike Lowell to the Red Sox.
Renteria signed with the Red Sox after they won the 2004 World Series and never seemed comfortable in Boston; he batted .276 with eight homers and 70 runs batted in. Although he has won two Gold Gloves, Renteria led the major leagues with 30 errors last season. Shipley added that manager Terry Francona approved the trade.
"We looked at his time in the National League and we believe when he gets back to the NL in Atlanta, he will return to the Renteria of old," said John Schuerholz, the general manager of the Braves.
Whether Renteria does or not, the Red Sox must find a shortstop. Boston had entertained the idea of acquiring Julio Lugo from the Tampa Bay Devil Rays if the trade had been expanded to three teams. The Red Sox, meanwhile, agreed to pay US$11 million of the remaining US$32 million on Renteria's contract.
Marte, 22, hit 20 homers and drove in 74 runs for Triple-A Richmond last season and was ranked as Atlanta's best prospect by Baseball America. Lowell is slated to play third for the Red Sox in 2006, so Marte could start the season in the minors. But Bill Lajoie, a special adviser to the Red Sox, said he expected to see Marte play for the Red Sox in 2006, perhaps in the outfield or at first base, where Kevin Youkilis might see playing time.