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Infield switch

Sox cash out, deal Renteria to Braves for prospect Marte

DALLAS -- Underwhelmed by his opening act in Boston, and overwhelmed by his contract, the Red Sox absorbed $11 million of the $29 million owed to Edgar Renteria yesterday, sending the 30-year-old shortstop to the Braves for Atlanta's No. 1 prospect, third baseman Andy Marte.

The Sox will pay the remaining $3 million of Renteria's signing bonus and a $1 million assignment bonus that kicked in when he was dealt, meaning Atlanta receives the two-time National League Gold Glove winner for three seasons for only $18 million. Renteria, in turn, will have cost the Red Sox $23 million for a single season.

Atlanta manager Bobby Cox said Marte ''can play in the big leagues right now. Unfortunately, he's a third baseman, and so is Chipper Jones."

''He's got no hard feelings," said Renteria's agent, Barry Meister, after speaking with the Colombian-born shortstop, who a year ago abandoned St. Louis for a four-year, $40 million deal in Boston. ''He's looking forward to going back to the National League . . . After a year's adjustment, you guys would have seen the real Edgar."

The real Edgar, the quietly bedazzling shortstop with skills reputedly as steady as his demeanor, never showed up. He committed a major league-leading 30 errors and had his worst offensive season since 2001, hitting .276 with eight homers and 70 RBIs. He batted just .229 in September and concluded the year 11th among major league shortstops in average, 12th in on-base percentage, and 13th in slugging.

He is the third world-class shortstop to depart the Red Sox in the last 13 months, following Nomar Garciaparra and Orlando Cabrera.

''I love the guy," manager Terry Francona said of Renteria by phone. ''He had some struggles. As a manger, I appreciated how he handled his struggles, the kind of teammate he was.

''Going to Atlanta does take a little, I don't know if pressure is the right word, but he'll be back in the NL, in a city with warm weather. The NL might suit him a little better. We played a little different brand of baseball, we slugged it out a little bit more than in the NL."

Indeed, the cerebral line-drive hitter with a small-ball mentality didn't ideally mesh. His most enduring play in 2005 was a two-out bunt against Baltimore in early June, a cunning read of third baseman Melvin Mora's positioning that allowed Renteria to reach base ahead of David Ortiz, who then clocked a walkoff homer off B.J. Ryan.

Renteria sped down the first base line that day, but he appeared bothered by a back issue during the season and, Francona acknowledged yesterday, ''He played with a bad groin at the end."

Meister said ''there was no serious injury" Renteria played through last season, though the agent said, ''His back [acted up] a couple of times."

Asked how the Sox can replace Renteria, senior adviser Bill Lajoie meandered for a moment before saying, ''To be more direct with the answer, it would be via free agency." Alex Gonzalez, who was not offered arbitration by the Marlins, is a likely option on a lacking open market, which includes Royce Clayton and two other former Red Sox, Pokey Reese and, yes, Garciaparra.

''It's basically a tough position to fill," Lajoie said. ''We've made some preparations for that over the last week or so."

In Marte, the Sox gain an A1 position player in their system, which they lost earlier this offseason when they dealt Hanley Ramírez to Florida for Josh Beckett. Marte, who turned 22 in October, hit .275 with 20 homers and 74 RBIs in 109 games with Triple A Richmond. He was voted the best defensive third baseman by International League managers, the fourth time in as many years he's received that distinction. He also was rated the fifth-best prospect in the International League (Triple A), behind Delmon Young (Devil Rays), Francisco Liriano (Twins), Zach Duke (Pirates), and National League Rookie of the Year Ryan Howard (Phillies).

''We acquired a ready player for the major leagues," said Lajoie, the Sox' de facto GM at the winter meetings, which ended yesterday. ''In our opinion, he's ready to go."

But he's not ready to go at a position of need. The Sox have Mike Lowell (two years, $18 million) at third, but no shortstop. Marte struggled in the big leagues last season, hitting .140 (8 for 57) during a one-week call-up in July and a month-long September call-up. The Braves used 18 rookies last season in winning a division title, and Marte pressed, possibly putting pressure on himself to match the accomplishments of some of Atlanta's other young players.

''We do see him as a future third baseman," Lajoie said. ''In my mind, and this is strictly my mind, I'd like to see him get in the lineup, and if it has to be as an outfielder, we might discuss that with him for the first year, just to get his bat in the lineup. He's a big guy with power with an arm and good hands."

However, the Braves tried Marte (6 feet 1 inches, 185 pounds) in the outfield in the winter leagues a year ago and he struggled.

Eric Goldschmidt, Gonzalez's agent, could not be reached yesterday, but the 28-year-old Venezuelan stands as the best option to succeed Renteria. Gonzalez wasn't retained by cost-cutting Florida, and his old job projects to go to Ramírez. Had the Sox not unloaded Ramírez on Thanksgiving, he might have received a shot to play shortstop in Boston this season.

Gonzalez would be a defensive upgrade. During a midseason conversation in the Sox clubhouse, Renteria cited Gonzalez, his former Florida teammate, when asked to name the best-fielding shortstop in the game. However, Gonzalez would be an inferior offensive player to his three predecessors in Boston.

Gonzalez's career OPB (on-base percentage plus slugging percentage) is only .682, notably lower than Garciaparra's (.911), Renteria's (.744), and Cabrera's (.718). Gonzalez has never drawn more than 33 walks in one season, and he ranked near the bottom of the NL in on-base percentage at .319. He's a .245 career hitter with a career .291 OBP.

Gonzalez hit .264 with five homers and 45 RBIs last season after averaging close to 21 homers and 78 RBIs the two preceding seasons.

Atlanta, meanwhile, came away thrilled with the deal for Renteria. They lost Rafael Furcal to the Dodgers for three years and $39 million and landed Renteria for $21 million fewer over the same number of years.

''We could not ask for any more than that," said Atlanta GM John Schuerholz. ''We're delighted with this. Some people in the baseball industry like this guy better than any shortstop -- any shortstop, whoever you want to name.

''We think getting back to the National League in our environment in Atlanta, under Bobby Cox's guidance, this guy will flourish."

Meister cited several reasons for Renteria's difficult first -- and only -- season in Boston.

''My personal opinion," Meister said, ''is it's an adjustment to switch leagues, to step onto a world championship club. It's an adjustment to really change your financial situation and feel like in some cases you have to justify a huge salary. And I just think all of those things created an adjustment period.

''I have to tell you, he says great things about his teammates. You know what a comfortable clubhouse that was for him. He has great things to say about Tito."

Lajoie, talking about Renteria's career-high error total, said, ''There was some caution there. He was laying back on the ball, and there was some caution throwing it. I don't know why it happened, but it did. He may come back and be the player he was."

And how about the city? Was it too much for Renteria, especially after he was booed during a May series against -- how prophetic was this -- Atlanta?

''He wasn't intimidated at all," Meister said. ''Edgar is a guy who sees the game between the lines as being between the lines, whether he's in Colombia, St. Louis, or Boston. It's a radical lifestyle change, but everyone in Boston treated him great.

''When we signed, he didn't know anything about the city. When I saw him last in Chicago, he said the baseball experience was a great experience. He felt it was a great clubhouse. He loved it."

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