Last night reports broke of a surprising trade between the Tampa Bay Rays and San Diego Padres. Tommy Pham and Jake Cronenworth have been traded for Hunter Renfroe, Xavier Edwards, and a Player To Be Named Later.
The Rays did the unexpected and traded a player they didn’t need to trade (Pham) for a major league player expected to help replace the loss of immediate production.
The Rays saved about $5MM in projected arbitration for 2020. For a team whose payroll currently sits in the low $60MM range that isn’t what Rays fans. There is no way to sugar coat the situation.
The Rays chose to get worse in 2020 for the time being. Hunter Renfroe is worse than Tommy Pham in expected production. This is not what Rays fans wanted to see as the first major move of the winter.
One thing that looks pretty certain is the Rays improved their outfield defense. Hunter Renfroe put up one of the best defensive seasons in the majors last season. Last year Renfroe put up +22 DRS and +10.1 UZR. Renfroe gives the Rays a player who fits the more traditional defensive profile of right fielder with a strong arm affording the luxury of moving Austin Meadows to left field.
Along with the non-tender of Guillermo Heredia this puts the Rays in a much bigger need of somebody capable of covering centerfield when Kevin Kiermaier needs a day off or suffers an injury. Last year the Rays had 430 innings to cover in center. Only Meadows returns (13.0 innings) from that group. This is a real hole created by Pham’s departure and absolutely needs to be addressed before Opening Day.
The bigger questions come in replacing Pham’s offensive production. Pham hit .273/.369/.450 and put up 121 wRC+ while playing through nagging injuries on his way to a career high 654 plate appearances.
Last year Renfroe hit .216/.289/.489 and put up a 98 wRC+ in 494 plate appearances. This is quite a large step back. Renfroe has far more power (.259 career ISO), but is significantly worse at getting on base.
In 2018 Renfroe hit .248/.302/.504 and put up a 114 wRC+. Offensively this was a far better season, and what he Rays need out of him to feel good about this trade.
Renfroe dealt with a lingering ankle injury and had surgery to remove a bone spur from his foot. He is adamant that this had no role in his lack of production at the plate.
One interesting aspect of his 2019 season is that his strikeout rate rose 6.5% while his plate discipline stats stayed relatively the same if not improved almost across the board. He lowered his out of zone swing rate by 1.2% and swung at pitches in the zone 0.7% more of the time. Made contact with pitches in the zone 4.3% more frequently. His swinging strike rate dropped from 13.5% to 13.1%. Generally this would suggest that his strikeout rate should land somewhere in the mid 20%s and not above 30%.
Steamer projections sit at .233/.294/.467 and a 95 wRC+. This leads to 0.8 fWAR. This is a big step back for the Rays in 2020. The projections assume league average defense, so if you are a believer in his defense you can easily add a win to that projection. It would still be a large hit offensively. The Rays are betting against the projections.
Overview of the Trade
No doubt I would take Pham over Renfroe in 2020. There are reasons to expect at least average production from Renfroe, but Pham was and is projected to be one of the best players at his position.
I like the prospect Xavier Edwards. The Rays farm improved with this trade.
It looks like the Rays should come out ahead in value long term.
As a fan looking at a very good team looking to compete in the very short term I don’t care a lot about the future return. Now isn’t the time to look to collect long term pieces.
My initial reaction is a gut punch of the Rays losing one of their best offensive players when it didn’t look necessary.
Ultimately I’ll withhold final judgement until we get to Opening Day. We’re still a long way from finalizing a roster with more moves surely to come. I want to see the Rays improve.
Right now I don’t really like the trade. I’d rather have Pham on the roster than Renfroe. I suspect I’ll still feel that way when the winter ends, but the front office could surprise everybody once again.