Tommy Pham has not had a fortunate start to the 2020 season. After a slow Summer Camp due to a COVID-19 positive result, Pham hit the ground running by swiping a ton of bags at the start of play, but since that hot start, Pham has been dealing with a fractured hamate bone, an injury that saps power from hitters and is far more difficult to play through than the hand injury that hampered what was the Rays most talented hitter on the 2019 squad.
Of course, the Rays did not trade Pham just due to injury concerns. The left fielder and team leader was ready to earn something like $20 million over the projected 2020 and 2021 seasons, and the Rays believed they could at least approximate his value on the field for less money.
The Rays would go on to sign Yoshi Tsutsugo to a two-year, $12 million contract with a $2.4 million posting fee — saving one of the lowest payrolls in the American League approximately $5 million in 2021, if not more in this pandemic environment.
From a performance perspective, thanks to Pham’s injury, Yoshi Tsutsugo is ahead of his elder (Yoshi is four years younger, despite a decade of playing experience in the Nippon), and heating up. Pham has a 51 wRC+ over his last 15 games; Yoshi has finally cracked above average at a 102 wRC+. A healthy Pham would be a more fair comparison, but yet another hand injury is the reality we live.
It’s here I’ll note Pham’s presence can also be missed off the field as the Rays, by trading him, lost the only player on the roster who grew up with the experience of being Black in America. The Rays are a diverse team and diverse organization, but their social justice initiatives could have used an on-the-field presence to reinforce their messaging around racial inequality, just as Pham has become the centerpiece of the Padres current roster in their “Together as One” messaging.
The only Rays players to make any vocal statement in alignment with the global Black Lives Movement were pitchers Blake Snell and Colin Poche, although MLB t-shirts sporting the phrase have been spotted on Ji-Man Choi, Willy Adames, Michael Perez, and third base coach Rodney Linares, who took a knee on Opening Day. General Manager Erik Neander also held a sign with the phrase during the draft telecast on ESPN.
Nevertheless, in an incomplete comparison, Yoshi Tsutsugo edges Pham as far as the trade off is concerned at the major league level, for now.
As for the trade that send Pham to San Diego, the other pieces are an interested assortment for 2020 baseball. OF Hunter Renfroe was acquired in the deal to replace the bat and defense of Avisail Garcia. The former is still in his first of four years salary arbitration via his rookie contract, while Garcia signed with the Brewers for $10 million per season over the next two years with an option at the same.
Over 20 games, Renfroe checks in as average at the plate with a 99 wRC+ contribution while Garcia has performed just below that. Renfroe has great power and a great arm in the outfield, but neither OF is performing notably well.
Balancing out the rest of the deal were three prospects, two coming to Tampa Bay, and one back to San Diego, giving us this in full:
Rays acquire: OF Hunter Renfroe, 2B Xavier Edwards, 2B Esteban Quiroz
Padres acquire: OF Tommy Pham, INF/RP Jake Cronenworth
Edwards is a switch-hitting infielder that, upon acquisition, had the stateside advantage of being a known entity and was already on prospect boards, but he started to receive All-Star projections like those bestowed upon Willy Adames when the Rays honed in on him as a more unheralded prospect in A-ball.
Without baseball to play but the existing potential to be a fast mover in the Rays deep system, the light-hitting second baseman was added to the Alternative Training Site this week—a surprise given his limited experience in the high minors. To date, Edwards has received just over 217 plate appearances for a 100 wRC+ in High-A. Most prospect publications have him in the 70’s on Top-100 lists, and do not expect him to add much power or leave the second base position.
Quiroz is a Mexican League standout with incredible speed, and edged into our site’s Top-50 prospect list as we anticipated his role on a playoff roster in 2020. Given the virus, that possibility may not come to pass. He has been included in activities in Port Charlotte, but it remains to be seen if playoff rosters are allowed more or less flexibility this year.
All of this brings us to Cronenworth, who has been a godsend for the Padres all around their infield, filling in for injured players and spelling others. The results have been akin to a cheat code in MLB The Show:
As with all statistics in this season, we are dealing in Small Sample Size theater, but in 53 plate appearances Cronenworth boasts a 156 wRC+ in the majors, picking up where he left off after a season-long 147 wRC+ in Durham for the Rays Triple-A affiliate.
How sustainable is this level of performance? Well, I can’t pretend to be sure, but the Padres are not acting as if it is, choosing to use Cronenworth on a part-time basis and not batting him higher than fifth on a given start. In other words, he’s not getting the Tatis Jr. treatment.
Cronenworth is also one of many high performers on the 2020 Padres, alongside Tatis are Myers, Grisham, Machado, and the returning Hosmer that are all entrenched. His success in this pandemic affected season is fun, and how he performs in comparison to Edwards over the years to come will be a compelling story. As for now, the jury will remain out on the prospect side of things.