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Revisiting the Tommy Pham trade, one year later

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2020 shipwrecked a lot of trade value. How do we measure what’s left?

San Diego Padres v San Francisco Giants Photo by Lachlan Cunningham/Getty Images

When the Rays made the shocking decision to trade the best hitter from 2019’s roster, one thing was clear: there was a lot of value being placed on the prospect they acquired.

One year later, not much has changed in that regard, but all the other moving pieces had 2020 seasons no one could expect.

Here was the deal as it was conceived:

Padres Receive:

  • OF Tommy Pham
  • INF Jake Cronenworth

Rays Receive:

  • OF Hunter Renfroe
  • 2B Esteban Quiroz
  • 2B Xavier Edwards
  • “financial flexibility”

The Rays utilized the money thus freed up to then sign 3B/OF Yoshi Tsutsugo to a two-year deal, which mirrors Pham’s remaining contract.

None of these players, however, fared well in 2020.

Post pandemic delay, Jake Cronenworth was forced into the majors when the Padres needs opened at first base, and yes he hit extraordinarily well to start the year, but that performance tailed off precipitously (86 wRC+ in the second half). Small sample sizes! Pham, meanwhile, picked up the virus and broke a hamate bone. And as if that weren’t bad enough, shortly after the season ended he was stabbed outside a San Diego strip club. Not great, Bob!

For the Rays, Renfroe underperformed expectations and was released after the season, the speedy Quiroz was unable to crack the Rays roster after the team acquired Brett Phillips, Xavier Edwards did not get an invite to the Alternate Training site until August 14th, stranding him on an island away from the Rays other top prospects and coaching staff for much of 2020. Meanwhile, Yoshi never got the chance to adjust to MLB pitching due to the shortened season and, despite passing the eye test at the plate, was eventually benched for Joey Wendle in the playoffs.

After such a terrible season for all, how do we measure the success of this deal moving forward?

MLB: San Diego Padres at Colorado Rockies Isaiah J. Downing-USA TODAY Sports

Major League Side: Pham vs. Renfroe & Tsutsugo

If you’re feeling reductive, we can focus on the wins above replacement perspective. Among the major league pieces Yoshi totaled +0.3 fWAR, Renfroe -0.4 fWAR, and Pham -0.1 fWAR. Those three surprisingly net out. What remains among the three is one year of Yoshi at $7 million, and one year of Pham at likely $8 million.

Steamer projects Yoshi to a 113 wRC+ with a negative defensive value (-6.4) in 2021, and Pham to a 117 wRC+ with a surprisingly similar (-6.6) defensive value. There’s a real possibility these two players offer a similar level of performance in 2021, and that’s interesting!

Previously: You can understand the Tommy Pham trade and hate it at the same time

As for Renfroe, unless he re-signs with the Rays or Padres, his ship has sailed from a trade valuation perspective. His acquisition in this deal, it should be noted, replaced the bat lost when Avisail Garcia landed a $10M AAV multi-year deal with the Brewers. Refroe was due only $3.3 million by comparison.

Garcia and Renfroe put up similar performances in 2020, with Garcia accumulating 81 wRC+ with 2 HR in 207 PA, and Renfroe a 76 wRC+ with 8 HR in 139 PA. Both players had negative DRS in 2020, which was only surprising for Renfroe who picked up 23 DRS in 2019. Again, small sample sizes.

Nevertheless, we’ll check in on a 2021 comparison of Pham and Tsutsugo a year from now.

Minor League Side: Cronenworth vs. Quiroz & Edwards

Jake Cronenworth surpassed expectations with 1.4 fWAR in 2020, setting him up for what could be a nice role to play in the Padres infield. When he was acquired some Rays fans may remember he was a swiss army knife of opportunity, multi positional in every way, but the Padres dropped his switch hitting and appear to have moved on from his pitching capabilities as well. A more defined future is not a bad thing, but it is something less than what he was as a Rays prospect. Then again, it’s also something more in that he’s offering major league value today. We can’t guarantee that from the rest of the Rays return.

Quiroz made the Rays 60-man roster in 2020 but is not expected to play much of a role as a 29-year old prospect next season. His counterpart in the trade, Edwards, is even farther removed from the Rays roster and has prospect analysts divided.

WBSC Premier 12: USA V Dominican Republic
Xavier Edwards of United States runs to base during the WBSC Premier 12 Group A match between USA and Dominican Republic at Estadio de Beisbol Charros de Jalisco on November 4, 2019 in Zapopan, Mexico.
Photo by Alfredo Moya/Jam Media/Getty Images

At the time of Edwards’s acquisition, some like Keith Law saw a future All-Star, while others whispered of a shockingly low 84 mph exit velo, projecting a powerless bat on a player locked into the team’s position of depth (second base). It’s not clear why the Rays would add the likes of Quiroz to the 60-man roster long before Edwards, but it does not bode well for the team’s internal evaluation of the younger prospect.

A former first round selection from 2018 (No. 38 overall), Edwards is considered a Top-100 prospect list contender, but will need to prove a year off didn’t hamper his development.

So when will we know who won the trade?

It’s hard to say without Edwards approaching the majors. In 2021 we will have the battle between Pham and Tsutsugo to follow, but from the jump the Rays cast their lot with Edwards in terms of this deal’s value, and that has yet to look like a great bet.

Edwards is expected to reach Double-A next season, should the minor league season take place. He previously had 217 career plate appearances at the High-A level, where he totaled a 100 wRC+ in 2019, so his year will be interesting to follow. Will the Rays send him to High-A to try again, or challenge him against the next level’s pitching? Will the Rays try him in center field, or will he continue as a second base prospect?

Until we know what becomes of Xavier Edwards, we will not be able to evaluate the Tommy Pham trade fairly, but one year later it’s Advantage Padres.