Early Friday morning, the Tampa Bay Rays dealt outfielder Tommy Pham and minor league middle infielder/relief pitcher Jake Cronenworth to the San Diego Padres for power-hitting OF Hunter Renfroe, Single-A shortstop Xavier Edwards, and a player to be named later. In doing so, the Rays received a controllable, elite defender while shedding a projected $8.6-Million in salary. Be that as it may, Pham was a beloved key member of the 90+ win 2018 and 2019 Tampa Bay ball clubs, whose presence will be missed.
If Blake Snell’s reaction to the trade speaks to anything, it’s that this move wasn’t instantaneously popular within the Rays clubhouse.
At any rate, Renfroe, 27, was a first-round draft pick for San Diego in 2013. He has slugged at least 26 homers in each season since debuting in 2017, including 33 in 2019. However, injuries (he played with a bone spur on the top of his right foot during the second half of the season, requiring October surgery) thwarted his hot start in 2019, and the outfielder ultimately wound up slashing .216 BA/.289 OBP/.489 SLG/.778 OPS across 494 plate appearances. Even so, he ranked sixth in the National League (13th in MLB) with a 13.3 home run to at-bats ratio.
Renfroe was an elite defender in 998 innings divided among all three outfield positions last season, ranking second in the big-leagues with 22 Defensive Runs Saved per FanGraphs and a 10.1 Ultimate Zone Rating.
Renfroe is projected to make around $3.4-Million in 2020, in the first of four arbitration-eligible years. He will likely accompany Austin Meadows and Kevin Kiermaier as the Rays’ starting outfielders in 2020, although the team is reportedly interested in a reunion with free-agent OF Avisail Garcia. Double-A outfielder Josh Lowe, who played in the Arizona Fall League in 2019, could also impact the big-league roster at some point next season.
Pham was an effective outfielder for Tampa Bay over the past 1-1/2 seasons and racked up a combined 13.6 fWAR extending back to 2017 (including 3.3 in 2019). He is coming off a year in which he slashed .273 BA/.369 OBP/.450 SLG/.819 OPS with 21 home runs, 81 walks, 69 RBI, and 25 stolen bases across 654 plate appearances.
As Marc Topkin (Tampa Bay Times) wrote, the deal was not wholly unexpected:
Of the four players the Rays have making more than $5 million, Pham was the most likely to go. The others are centerfielder Kevin Kiermaier ($10 million salary) and starters Charlie Morton ($15 million) and Blake Snell ($7 million).— Marc Topkin
Rays GM Erik Neander foreshadowed such a move on Thursday in his comments ahead of the 2019 MLB Winter Meetings when he was asked about improving the roster stocked primarily with young players.
There’s a lot of time between now and Opening Day, and I think anticipate some twists and turns in terms of what our team will look like by the end of March when we get going.
As much as we like the complexion of our roster, I think in order to find paths to improvement and advance our efforts we might have to change the complexion of that some way. Some shape, somehow, just because of where we sit right now. So beyond (potentially adding a catcher), we’re going to be open-minded, we’re going to try to be opportunistic. But it probably will take some creativity in terms of the way we go about doing that at this point, because there’s not a lot of clear-cut paths given the group we have.— Erik Neander