Tuesday, May 30, 2006

Renty so far better than Fukey

With the Dodgers in town, it seems an apt time to compare Braves shortstops past and present. Yeah, they flogged us yesterday, they’re a half game back and we’re 4-and-a-half out. But the shortstop transition is so far in our favor.

Furcal had a couple hits and runs scored yesterday, is hitting .324 in May and has 10 steals. He’s heating up after a .198 April and is at .266 for the season. On the other hand, Fukey leads the National League with 11 errors, and he’s been caught stealing six times. Last season, he stole 46 bases and was caught just 10 times. That’s a 63 percent success rate this year, 82 percent last year. For his career, he’s stolen a base on 77 percent of his attempts.

So he’s off to a decent start offensively and a shaky one afield.

As for the Bravos’ new shortstop, Renteria has been superb with the stick. He’s hitting .333 with 5 homers, 21 RBI and a .415 on base percentage. He easily surpasses Fukey in all those categories. He has half as many steals as Furcal, but you expect that. Renteria has not been excellent defensively but he’s been a little better than Furcal. He has 8 errors -- two in the past two games on tricky throws to second -- compared to Fukey’s 11.

You’d have to give the edge to Renteria based on performance. And one more critical statistic makes it a landslide so far. Salary: the Dodgers are paying Raffy $13 million a year; the Braves are paying Edgar roughly $6 million per while Boston picks up the other $4 mill.

This is not to say Renteria is necessarily better than Furcal. They’re both fine players. I would simply argue that so far, the Braves are probably better with Renteria than they would’ve been with Furcal playing as he has so far this season. When you consider finances, there’s no doubt the Braves are better for having Edgar.

If the Braves had met the Dodgers’ price for Raffy, JS probably would have had to trade Giles and other players for minor leaguers. It’s not worth speculating because there simply was no way the Braves could match the LA offer.

We don’t blame Furcal for taking the Dodgers’ money. They offered far more than the home team. As Bobby has said, he had to take it. Apparently some fans don’t agree. At the game yesterday, there were a few boos, more cheers but mostly indifference greeting Raffy.

Rather than pondering what would’ve been had Furcal stayed, a more intriguing question might be: What if the organization had opted to play Betemit at shortstop every day, kept Marte and spent a little more money on the bullpen? Who knows? Willy B. has had a fine year so far, but in limited time he has not hit as well as Renteria. Defensively, I suspect Renty is better, though Betemit has at least held his own when he’s played short.

There is little doubt that another quality arm – Tom Gordon? – could have made a difference in the pen. Again, all this is hindsight. Going into the season with Betemit, who’s never been a regular, as the starting shortstop would have been a risk. So was going into the season with Reitsma as closer. JS judged that gambling on the pen was the wiser choice.

It would be easy to say that was wrong. And, apologies for sounding like Donald Rumsfeld, but the results of some other strategy are unknowable. These moves should not be judged solely on what’s happened in the first two months of the season, or even on what happens in this entire season. Gordon, for example, signed a 3-year deal with the Phillies averaging around $6 million a year. That’s a hefty price and a lot of years for a reliever who’ll turn 39 in November. In 2008, Philly might wish they had Gordon's money to spend elsewhere.

Being a major league GM is complex, never as simple as we fans portray. Decisions are made within a larger context – every trade or free agent signing sets in motion a chain of events. And each one matters when you effectively operate with a salary cap, as the Braves and most teams do.

-- CD


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