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Rays’ loss of Hunter Renfroe is the Red Sox’ gain

Renfroe’s arbitration eligibility down year ended his time in Tampa Bay, but he’ll find a fit in Boston.

World Series - Los Angeles Dodgers v Tampa Bay Rays - Game Four Photo by Ronald Martinez/Getty Images

With Jackie Bradley Jr. and Kevin Pillar possibly signing elsewhere, the Boston Red Sox desperately needed outfield depth. They picked some up on Monday by signing Hunter Renfroe. In 2021, Renfroe will make a guaranteed $3.1 million, and Renfroe will be under team control until 2024. Renfroe was one of many competent hitters to have a disastrous 2020, and his .277 wOBA over 139 plate appearances got him non-tendered by the Rays making him available to their divisional rivals.

Renfroe likely doesn’t complete the Red Sox outfield, but it should be a nice fit for him. In the corners, Boston has Andrew Benintendi and Alex Verdugo, two left-handed hitters to pair with the righty Renfroe. In Verdugo’s young career, he hasn’t displayed pronounced platoon splits, but Benintendi has been much better against righties (.350 career wOBA) than lefties (.304 career wOBA). Renfroe has been just as ineffective when at a disadvantage (.301 wOBA against righties), but he has been even better against lefties.

In his career, Renfroe has slashed .258/.339/.573 for a .375 wOBA and 137 wRC+ against lefties. Even in his lost 2020, he still put up above average production when he got the chance to face a southpaw. Despite a .043(!) BABIP against lefties, Renfroe posted an .806 OPS in his 51 plate appearances. That’s a teeny tiny sample, but it’s consistent with what he’s done throughout his career.

There’s little doubt that Renfroe can hit lefties, but it’s harder to hide a lefty-masher against righties than it is to hide a righty-masher against lefties. 73 percent of plate appearances were thrown by right handed pitchers in 2020. Still, with Benintendi and Verdugo on the roster, the Red Sox don’t need to overexpose Renfroe.

When he’s not hitting, Renfroe is still a solid defender. In 2019, he amassed 23 DRS between left and right field. He was just around average in every other season, so maybe 2019 was an outlier, but his glove could make up for when he has to start against a right-hander.

The Red Sox shouldn’t just slide Benintendi or Verdugo to center, stick Renfroe in a corner, and call it an offseason, but Renfroe is a nice pickup for a team trying to get back to contention. It wouldn’t have been possible if the Rays hadn’t cut Renfroe loose as soon as he hit arbitration eligibility.

On the heels of a 33-homer season, the Rays acquired the outfielder and shortstop prospect Xavier Edwards in exchange for Tommy Pham and Jake Cronenworth. Critics immediately panned the trade from Tampa Bay’s perspective, and a year later, it only looks worse. Like Renfroe, Pham also had a down year, but a 60-game slump means a lot less when Pham had five straight seasons of above-average production preceding it. Steamer has Pham returning to form and hitting for a .349 wOBA next season. Jake Cronenworth, of course, finished second in Rookie of the Year voting with a 125 wRC+ and solid defense at multiple positions.

If we can expect a bounceback from Pham, the same can be extended to Renfroe. Granted, a repeat of Renfroe’s 2019 is still less valuable than a typical Pham season, but Renfroe was only expected to earn $4 million in arbitration. That’s a steal for a player who can put up league average production when everything goes right. For Tampa Bay, though, a steal is just a little too expensive when there’s some risk that Renfroe is merely replacement level.

After non-tendering Renfroe, the Rays’ hopes of “winning” the trade (or at least not being embarrassed by it) hinge on Xavier Edwards. It’s not a desperate hope; Edwards is a fine player. FanGraphs gives him 80-grade speed and ranks him sixth in the Rays’ system and 67th in all of baseball. Edwards could be great in a few years, and yet, Cronenworth is great now.

Should Renfroe get his groove back, it will be Boston’s gain and Tampa Bay’s loss. He might fall short of being an everyday player, but he’s a solid bench option for the right team. As Boston is currently constructed, the Red Sox are the right team.

Kenny Kelly is the managing editor of Beyond the Box Score.