Renteria and Leyland reunite in Detroit
Shortstop acquired from Braves for a pair of top prospects
Ten years after Edgar Renteria ended the 1997 World Series with a walkoff hit for Jim Leyland, the two had another piece of drama waiting for the end of this year's Fall Classic.
Hours after the offseason officially began, the Detroit Tigers started it off with a blockbuster deal, acquiring Renteria from the Atlanta Braves for two top prospects -- right-hander Jair Jurrjens and center fielder Gorkys Hernandez on Monday. The move not only fills the shortstop opening created when the Tigers decided to move Carlos Guillen to first base full-time starting next year, it reunites Renteria with his manager and front-office team from the world champion Marlins in '97.
"We're thrilled to death to have him," said Leyland, who has kept in touch with him over the years. "Obviously he was part of the biggest night of my life, and to be reunited with Edgar Renteria is a thrill for me."
It's a reunion that has Leyland and others looking forward to the future with excitement, too.
"I know Jim likes to compete and I like to compete," Renteria said. "I'm going to try to do the best I can do for the team. I feel real happy to play for the Detroit Tigers."
When discussions swirled late this season around the Tigers potentially moving Guillen to first base, Guillen suggested that they'd better get a very good shortstop to fill the void. Renteria addresses that.
Though Renteria has 12 Major League seasons on his record, he's a 32-year-old coming off of one of the best offensive seasons of his career. He batted .332 in 124 games for Atlanta with 30 doubles, 12 home runs and 57 RBIs, helping fuel Atlanta's offense from the second and third spots in the order.
Only Florida's Hanley Ramirez and National League MVP candidate Jimmy Rollins from Philadelphia had a higher OPS among NL shortstops than Renteria's .860 clip. He was in the race for the National League batting crown for much of the year before a high ankle sprain hampered him over the second half, eventually requiring a stint on the disabled list.
Defensively, Renteria was charged with just 11 errors in 121 games at short, compiling a .977 fielding percentage that ranked in the middle of the pack among NL shortstops. His range factor, or putouts and assists per nine innings, dropped for the third consecutive year, while his .800 zone rating -- the percentage of balls fielded by a player within his typical defensive area -- was a career low.
"He may be a step shorter on the range," general manager Dave Dombrowski said, "but he's in a position where he has real good hands and a solid arm. He catches the balls he can get to."
Tigers second baseman Placido Polanco was a teammate and occasional double-play partner with Renteria for several years in St. Louis. Now, they'll be the middle-infield duo on a full-time basis.
"Well, Renteria is a very good player and a great teammate," Polanco wrote in an email Monday. "I am very happy that we got him. I know him very well and I am sure he is going to help us big time. He is a winner."
Both Dombrowski and Leyland also emphasized Renteria's influence in the clubhouse, especially among younger players.
The '07 performance continued a career resurgence for Renteria since joining Atlanta two years ago following a relatively disappointing 2005 season for the Red Sox. However, he became expendable for the right price when the Braves decided prospect Yunel Escobar was ready to take over at short.
For Atlanta and new general manager Frank Wren, dealing Renteria was a way to help bring young talent back into its organization. Once the Tigers determined their needs, Dombrowski initiated talks with Wren earlier this month, culminating in the framework of a deal.
"We went to our [organizational] meetings down in Lakeland," Dombrowski said, "and it didn't surprise me coming out of our meeting that our No. 1 need was addressing our shortstop situation. We made out a quick list and Edgar was at the top of the list of people we thought were going to be available."
To get him, the Tigers had to part with two valued pieces from their farm system, but in two positions where they feel they have the depth to make up for their loss.
The 21-year-old Jurrjens was a late-season addition to Detroit's injury-riddled rotation and helped the Tigers stay in the American League playoff chase with surprisingly efficient, effective starts. His 3-1 record and 4.70 ERA included victories over the Indians and Twins, earning him consideration for a full-time spot on next year's staff.
Had Jurrjens remained a Tiger going into next spring, he was expected to compete with fellow youngster Andrew Miller for the fifth starter's job. That ability to succeed in the Majors now rather than later, however, made him appealing to the Braves, who found themselves in the unusual position of looking for young pitching.
"We think that the strength of our organization is our young pitching," Dombrowski said.
The 20-year-old Hernandez was the latest in a line of center-field prospects to come through the Tigers organization. He earned Midwest League Most Valuable Player honors at Class A West Michigan with a .293 average and 54 stolen bases. Yet with fellow Tigers farmhand Cameron Maybin rated among the best prospects in the game, Hernandez's future was murky.
Like the Gary Sheffield trade soon after last year's World Series, the Tigers upgraded with veteran talent at a heavy price. Yet it was a price the Tigers are willing to pay in the position they find themselves in.
"We're in a position where we're trying to win on a yearly basis," Dombrowski said, "so we're trying to make moves to win. Edgar's signed for the coming year with a club option after that. We were also fortunate enough to be in a spot where you never want to trade good young players but in a position where we have some depth. You have to sometimes do those things."
Renteria will make $9 million in the final guaranteed season of the four-year, $40 million contract he signed with the Red Sox as a free agent after the 2004 season. When Boston traded him to Atlanta a year later, the Red Sox agreed to pick up his 2006 salary as well as the $3 million buyout if his 2009 option is declined.
The Tigers will get that money if they don't pick up his $11 million option. They're also receiving cash from the Braves to help offset his 2008 salary.
The move also formally takes the Tigers out of any speculation as a potential destination for Alex Rodriguez, the former shortstop and Yankees third baseman who informed New York that he'll opt out of his contract and become a free agent.
"We have our infield," Dombrowski said, "and we're very happy with our infield."
Leyland certainly is. A day after he watched the Red Sox finish off a World Series sweep of the Rockies, he was already thinking about next year.
"To be honest, I'm going to go out to dinner tonight with my wife," Leyland said. "And when I get home, I'm going to start thinking about lineups."
Jason Beck is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.