Well, as we steam towards those magic words that all baseball fans long to hear, "Pitchers and catchers report", it's becoming increasingly likely that the Reds are done with their offseason improvement efforts.
Fortunately (or is it unfortunately?), this should be fairly short.
Edgar Renteria signed a one-year contract worth $2.1M in base salary and an additional $900,000 possible in incentives
I'm not an Edgar Renteria fan, so let's get that out of the way up front. If you asked me to write up a list of shortstop options that I would have pursued this offseason, Edgar wouldn't even have made the list. For the record, Jed Lowrie was the guy I wanted, but his late season offensive production means that the Reds probably waited too long to get him. And, given the Reds reticence to spend (either prospects or money) to acquire impact talent, they were left with their choice of the retreads and stopgaps. So, that constriction is the framework under which this signing must be measured.
Now, all that said and despite all efforts to the contrary, I am having a hard time working up much angst over this signing. Evidently, I've either been placated by the first taste of postseason baseball in years or just started going soft in my old age. Either way, it just doesn't seem like an acquisition to get too riled up over.
I value defense more highly than most, so I view Paul Janish as the clear cut choice to start at shortstop. Of course, that's what I wanted to see last year as well. Obviously, that didn't happen and because it didn't, the Reds really have no choice but to have a legitimate fallback plan for shortstop in place.
Part of the problem with the Reds gifting so much playing time to an underwhelming O-Cab was that Janish was arguably more productive when you factor in both offense and defense. However, the remaining part of the problem with giving so many innings to O-Cab was that it precluded the Reds from getting an extended look at Paul Janish. And, without an extended look, it's damn difficult to properly evaluate Paul Janish.
As I think I wrote in the year-end review of the infielders, Janish had solid overall numbers (.723 OPS), but his splits were volatile and occasionally illogical (.554 OPS at home vs. .858 OPS on the road, .824 OPS during the day vs. .648 OPS at night, etc). Unfortunately, the sample size is just too small to draw any definitive conclusions. If that weren't the case, then the signing of a veteran insurance policy would be much less defensible.
So, the Reds need a fallback option. You could (quite effectively) argue that Zack Cozart would be a sufficient fallback option, but the baseball industrial complex has always preferred its security blankets to have a lot of mileage on them.
Was Edgar the right fall back option? I think it's debatable. The type of production he will provide isn't exactly a mystery. It will be fairly minuscule. He should get a bit of a boost from Great American Ballpark, which is a real tonic for aging righthanded hitters (i.e. Rich Aurilia, Joe Randa, etc), but Edgar will be just a tick above replacement level. As for defense, Edgar will likely be a notch below O-Cab. So, the aggregate production will undoubtedly be uninspiring.
If they were willing to pay that kind of cash, why not just bring back Orlando Cabrera?
The Reds had a $4M mutual option on O-Cab, which cost them $1M to buy him out. So, the total cost of replacing O-Cab with Edgar will be between $3.1M and $4M ($1M buyout of O-Cab + $2.1M base salary with possible $900K in incentives). So, there are two possible outcomes to switching from O-Cab to Edgar.
First, Edgar won't perform well enough to justify enough playing time to reach the incentives, so the Reds will save $900K. Second, Edgar performs well enough to justify the playing time necessary to reach the incentives, so he'll cost exactly the same as O-Cab's $4M but probably provide better production. Either outcome represents an upgrade over O-Cab at his option price.
In essence, by switching from O-Cab to Edgar, the Reds ensured either better production or cost savings. Of course, it's entirely possible the Reds could have brought back O-Cab for less money or found a different veteran option. But, all in all, Edgar seems to fill the role that the Reds covet, that of the "veteran insurance policy", sufficiently, so maybe it IS worth the loss of continuity and intangibles to justify going from O-Cab to Edgar.
Of course, it's still not way I would have gone.
Freddie Lewis signed a one-year, $900,000 base salary with possible incentives
Now, here is a signing I can support, the second cousin of the perennially underrated Matt Lawton. I've been a fan of Fred Lewis for a number of years and I'm glad to see him get an opportunity with the Reds.
Lewis is a good athlete with a nice blend of skills. He has some pop and can swipe some bags. He covers a lot of ground in leftfield and has a patient approach at the plate. He also has a smooth lefthanded swing that should get a nice boost from the Great American Ballpark. All in all, Lewis has a lot of attributes that you look for in a ballplayer.
However, Lewis will likely split the fan base for one simple reason. He just doesn't seem to possess great baseball instincts. For example, despite his good range in the outfield, he is prone to making errors and his routes to the ball aren't always the best. As a result, people who watch him play frequently believe him to be a below average outfielder. Additionally, despite his good speed his stolen base success rate simply isn't that impressive. He gets nabbed more often than one would expect, as evidenced by his 74% career mark. In short, he's just not a very good percentage player.
Regardless, even with a few missteps and a bit of inefficiency in translating his tools into production, there is more than enough production left to justify his acquisition. In 2010, Lewis hit a respectable .262/.332/.414/.745 with 8 homers and 17 stolen bases for the Blue Jays. And, for his career, his line is .272/.348/.418/.766, so if anything he could do better in Cincinnati. Lewis could very easily become the best leadoff hitter the Reds have had in a number of years. And, the more ducks on the pond for Bruce and Votto, the better.
Overall, Lewis is a very good risk/reward acquisition and one that is MUCH more likely to pay off than Edgar Renteria. There should be very little to prevent Lewis from at least claiming the heavy half of a leftfield platoon with Jonny Gomes. And, it wouldn't surprise me at all to see him claim the job outright, though that seems unlikely with Dusty at the helm.
And, for those who want to get to know a little bit about Fred Lewis, I highly recommend this ESPN story about a tragic accident that has shaped his life. It's damn near impossible not to root for him to make good after reading the article.