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Renteria to the Reds

During an off-season of inflated contracts, the Cincinnati Reds have remained one of the quietest teams in the majors. Despite winning the National League Central for the first time since 1995, the Reds haven’t made any significant acquisitions this off-season. That should change as the Reds are expected to sign Edgar Renteria to a one year deal worth up to $3 million depending on incentives. Renteria, who isn’t known for his fielding, has slipped offensively over the past two seasons. With Renteria already experiencing stages of decline, is it possible the Reds will regret this transaction?

Despite being named the MVP of the World Series, there aren’t many positives to gleam from Renteria’s time in San Francisco. In his first season with the Giants, Renteria’s batting line was brought down by a depressed BABIP and an inability to hit for power. His second season with the Giants was marred by injuries, leading to Renteria accumulating only 267 plate appearances. As a Giant, Renteria posted only 1.6 WAR over two seasons, the worst consecutive seasons of his career.

The Reds decided to sign Renteria despite his recent struggles, perhaps believing there’s a chance he will bounce back with a new team. While Renteria’s slash line from 2010 looks acceptable (.276/.332/.374), his peripherals show a player in decline. Renteria made less contact in 2010, leading to a career high strikeout rate. His line drive rate, which has hovered between 21%-24% over his career, plummeted to just 15.7% last season. Even when Renteria made contact last season, he wasn’t able to hit the ball as hard. It must be said, however, that Renteria was injured for a large part of last season and it’s possible some of his decline could be related to injuries.

The Reds have to hope that Renteria bounces back offensively, because he’s not going to provide any value with his glove. According to The Bill James Handbook, Renteria has been one of the worst defensive shortstops over the past three seasons. UZR is not as harsh, but still ranks Renteria as barely replacement level over his career. The Reds finished the 2010 season as the fourth best defensive team in the league according to UZR. The acquisition of Renteria ensures that number will regress in 2011.

Renteria’s signing relegates Paul Janish back into a utility role this season. It’s possible, however, that Janish is the better player. Janish is regarded as an excellent defender, earning praise from the scouts and the advanced metrics. In 2009, Janish posted a 11.0 UZR in only 90 games. If he ever played a full season, he could rate as one of the stronger defensive shortstops in the game.

It’s a bit more difficult to judge Janish as a hitter. In three seasons, Janish has accumulated only 609 plate appearances. Over those three seasons, however, Janish has steadily improved. With each season, Janish has improved his contact rate, walk rate, and overall slash line, while lowering his strikeout rate. It’s a small sample from each season, but it looks like Janish is making improvements as a hitter each year. In 2010, Janish and Renteria actually posted similar offensive seasons in a similar amount of plate appearances.

If Janish looks like a player on the rise, and Renteria appears to be a player in decline, why would the Reds sign Renteria as their starting shortstop? It’s possible that the Reds feel better plugging in Renteria, who they feel they can more accurately project, as opposed to hoping Janish takes another step forward. Even if Janish struggles offensively, he would provide the Reds with fantastic defense, something Renteria cannot guarantee. These concerns make Renteria a risky signing for the Reds, especially since they may already have a better shortstop on their roster.