So, the Braves find themselves with three middle infielders, all of whom are (apparently) well above-average offensively for the position, none of whom is a Gold Glove candidate but all of whom are adequate defensively, and who have different strengths and weaknesses. You can go into the next season with the status quo, if you so desire, but given the team’s needs at other positions (center, the middle of the rotation, possibly left field) it would seemingly be better to move — either within the team or without — one of the supernumerary infielders to fix another position.
Assuming that the present players are the group from within which next year’s starters are chosen, there are four possibilities:
1. The status quo: Renteria at short, Escobar and Johnson platooning at second, with Escobar also backing up at short.
2. Escobar at short, Johnson at second.
3. Renteria at short, Escobar at second.
4. Renteria at short, Johnson at second.
Offensively, Renteria is the best hitter of the group, or was in 2007; given his age and injuries, and that the margins are fairly small, I don’t know that you can rely upon that continuing. Escobar is probably the best glove man of the three, at either position, but none of the three is really a plus. KJ has the biggest upside, probably, but I don’t know how much bigger than Escobar’s, and Escobar was a better player in 2007.
I think it comes down to two points: Finances, and what you can get in a trade. Renteria makes a lot of money and will be a free agent after the season, while the other two are cheap and won’t be free agents for several years. This element is strongly in favor of Renteria being traded, but at the same time decreases his value. Johnson and Escobar could potentially bring a lot in trade; different teams probably value them differently. The A’s, for example, would be more likely to value KJ, while the Cubs would probably prefer Yunel.
Who would be a prime suitor for Renteria? We would think big-market teams that plan to be competitive in 2008, and have problems at shortstop. The Cubs, for example, used Ryan Theriot as their primary shortstop, and he is 27 years old and can’t hit (72 OPS+) but can steal a lot of bases. Maybe they’d be interested. Across town, Juan Uribe played a big role in the White Sox’s collapse, and they’re supposedly the prime target. Unfortunately, the big three (the Yankees, the Red Sox, and the Dodgers) aren’t targets, as the Yankees and Dodgers are set at shortstop, and while Julio Lugo was awful this year, bringing Renteria back is not going to be considered.
If you’re more concerned about 2008 and getting value (rather than financial relief) in a trade, you’d be better off trading one of the others. Escobar or KJ plus a pitching prospect could probably bring a solid pitcher in return. With Lillibridge waiting in the wings, the Braves could afford to deal one of the two younger players.
I think, however, that they will deal Renteria, and get what they can.