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Gonzalez completes makeover of infield

Alex Gonzalez has some experience in replacing Edgar Renteria. In 1999, when the Marlins traded Renteria to the Cardinals, Gonzalez became Florida's everyday shortstop and made the All-Star team for the only time in his career (he pinch hit for Barry Larkin and popped to second base in the game at Fenway Park).

Now, pending the outcome of the physical he is scheduled to undergo this morning after flying here yesterday from his native Venezuela, Gonzalez is poised to replace Renteria again, this time as shortstop for the Red Sox.

The acquisition completes a makeover of the Red Sox infield, with Gonzalez becoming the double play partner of new second baseman Mark Loretta and being reunited on the left side with his former Marlin teammate, Mike Lowell. The Sox will have Gold Glove defenders at both corners: Lowell at third, and J.T. Snow backing up Kevin Youkilis at first.

Gonzalez doesn't have the hardware but was called by former manager Jack McKeon ''as good as anyone, just not as flashy." In each of the last two seasons, Gonzalez has made 16 errors; that total of 32 is just two more than Renteria made last season.

Are the Sox through making moves? Doubtful. A much-discussed trade to San Diego of pitcher David Wells probably won't get done until spring training, but it appears inevitable the teams will strike a deal. The Sox have another potential trading chip in infielder Tony Graffanino, the man without a position. And the wild card remains Manny Ramírez, who may or may not be satisfied with the Sox' contention that they exhausted good-faith efforts to move him this winter.

The Sox are expected to announce Gonzalez's signing after his physical. His agent, Eric Goldschmidt, confirmed yesterday that the player agreed to a one-year deal for $3 million, with standard contract bonuses for awards. The Orioles, Goldschmidt said, actually offered more money, with the idea that if they didn't trade shortstop Miguel Tejada, Gonzalez would play third base, with Melvin Mora shifting to the outfield. But Gonzalez preferred to remain at short and sign with the Sox.

Gonzalez's impending signing represents another departure from the Sox' stated preference for players with high on-base percentages. Lee Sinins, creator of the Sabermetrics Encyclopedia, notes that Gonzalez, who turns 29 Feb. 15, is 12 at-bats shy of 3,500 for his career. His current career on-base average of .291 ranks him fifth-worst in the last 50 years, Sinins reports, in differential between a player's on-base average and the league average, which in Gonzalez's case is .343.

Among active players, Gonzalez has the third-worst OBA, 1 point behind another recent Sox acquisition, backup catcher John Flaherty. And Lowell last season actually trailed Gonzalez with a .298 OBA, which might lead some to wonder what in the name of Bill James the Sox are doing.

Clearly, the Sox are displaying a willingness to sacrifice some offense for defense, though just as in the case of Lowell, Gonzalez has had better days offensively. In 2004, Gonzalez led all NL shortstops with 23 home runs and 79 RBIs, numbers that dropped to just 5 and 45 last season, along with a .264 batting average. The 2005 home runs and RBIs represent career lows for Gonzalez for any season in which he had 400 or more at-bats.

A somewhat ominous note: Gonzalez has ended each of the last two seasons with elbow surgery. He had a procedure to clean up scar tissue in October 2004, then last year, when he was sidelined after Sept. 4, he had arthroscopic surgery to remove a bone chip.

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