While Thursday’s Rays/Padres deal headlined by Tommy Pham and Hunter Renfroe likely won’t go down as this winter’s most shocking, the trade had something to say about the respective offseason strategies of both clubs. Tampa Bay, for their part, cut salary, increased controllability, and added yet another prized infield prospect to an already enviable collection. San Diego, true to their stated desire for a near-term return to contention, look to have secured an immediate improvement at the top of their lineup while also shuffling in an interesting two-way player likely capable of providing the big league roster with some extra support.
Hunter Renfroe is the most immediate addition to the Rays’ roster, even if this deal may have been more about the acquisition of infield prospect Xavier Edwards from the viewpoint of Tampa Bay GM Erik Neander. Renfroe has gained his share of detractors over the years for a free-swinging, low-OBP approach at the plate, but 2019 saw him finally realize the defensive potential many scouts foresaw when he was a top-100 prospect. Lining up primarily in the corners with a few starts in center, the former Bulldog recorded 22 Defensive Runs Saved and a 10.1 Ultimate Zone Rating last year, after recording average-or-worse marks in those categories the year prior. His arm is also touted as one of MLB’s most imposing.
Observers noting Renfroe’s underwhelming 98 wRC+ last year might be well-served to remember that the 27-year-old had a .252/.308/.613 line (132 wRC+) with 27 home runs heading into the All-Star break last year, before a variety of injuries were believed to have led to a precipitous second-half decline (Renfroe ended his season with a foot surgery). But even if Renfroe proves to be the roughly average hitter he’s been over the course of his career, Neander will have acquired a defensive standout capable of providing power, if nothing else, to the Rays’ lineup; better yet, he’s projected to make just $3.4MM in his first trip through arb, making him a very affordable source of said power.
As for the second aspect of this deal for the Rays, Edwards is a 20-year-old speedster who reached High-A last season. He’s hit just one home run in over 700 plate appearances since making his minor-league debut in 2018, but the youngster has terrorized pitchers (with a .328/.395/.399 career slash) and scorched the basepaths (56 steals in 168 games). When he was taken with the 38th-overall pick in the 2018 draft, MLB Pipeline relayed that scouts observed “excellent actions and footwork at shortstop” with an arm sufficient for the infield’s left side; he’s mostly split time between short and second so far in the minors, but it stands to reason his speed would play in center, as well. The Rays also acquired a PTBNL in this deal, which is not to be disregarded when said player is coming from a loaded San Diego system.
In Pham, the Padres added a player with a clear leg up on Renfroe for the title of “Best MLB Player” involved in this deal. While, at 31, he may never again reach the vertigo-inducing heights he climbed in 2017 with the Cardinals (149 wRC+ in 530 PAs), he’s still been an excellent player over the last two seasons in Tampa. His 12.1 percent walk rate, .186 isolated slugging mark, and 125 wRC+ since the beginning of 2018 all bear the markings of a standout hitter–and that’s before adding in the 42 homers and 40 steals he’s managed in that time. At an expected arbitration award of $8.6MM in his penultimate trip through the process, Pham rates as an immediate offensive upgrade over Renfroe, while drawing a salary that will possibly be less than half of what Marcell Ozuna figures to command this offseason.
Jake Cronenworth, the second player headed to San Diego in this deal, is a 25-year-old infielder capable of handling mop-up pitching duties in a pinch. Before 2019, the former Wolverine had never recorded a slugging mark north of .400 in his minor league career, but his first prolonged exposure to Triple-A baseball yielded an immediate improvement at the plate last year (surprise!). His .329/.422/.511 line with 10 homers in 419 plate appearances would lead one to believe that he’s ready for at least a part-time role in the bigs, even if those numbers were inflated by context somewhat; of course, hitting environment cuts both ways in prospect evaluation, so Cronenworth should be commended for being able to log 7.1 scoreless innings as a part-time pitcher in 2019, as well.
So, here we have a deal that, like a previous deal swung by Padres GM AJ Preller this offseason, seems to fit clear needs for both clubs. Question is, whose side do you like best?
First, Tampa Bay…
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And San Diego…
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