Updated: Apr 12, 2020
Let me start this piece by saying thank you.
Thank you Mr Pham for everything you have given this team over the past season and a half. When you first arrived from St Louis, I was so excited to have you as it was such an un Tampa Bay trade. How often does the little guy trade for a premier hitter?
Over the months and season which followed you’re presence in both the line-up and clubhouse was instrumental in producing what was one of my favourite seasons as a Rays fan. Your tenacity and shoulder chip attitude encompassed everything about the Rays perennial boys vs. men struggle.
However with that said, this is a business and a results business at that. And this is a move which I truly genuinely believe makes the Rays a better baseball team and puts them in a position to add to their 96 wins in 2019. This piece will look at a number area’s whereby the Rays improve from dealing Pham for Renfroe with Jake Cronentworth and Xavier Edwards swapping AAA teams.
The first of which is the obvious arrival of some supreme power. Tommy Pham has a career slugging percentage .461 with 79 HRs to match. Consequently it’s certainly safe to say he isn’t a contact hitter whose approach at the plate limits his pop and ability to drive the ball out of the ball park; however compared to Renfroe his numbers look pre-pubescent. With the departures of Jesus Aguilar, Travis D’Arnaud and Avisail Garcia to free agency, the Rays were in dire need of a right handed power bat that can both play the outfield with the ability to hit clean up.
Hunter Renfroe provides exactly that. He arrives in Tampa off the back of two seasons which hint at supreme power waiting to break out. His hard hit rates sit at 46.9% (2019) and 47.2% (2018) with HR/FB rates of 23.6% (2019) and 20.3% (2018). When combined with the fact that Renfroe is evidently a child of the launch angle era with seasons of 43.3% (2016), 45.4% (2017), 2018 (42.8%) and 47.9% (2019).
With his arrival in Tampa, I would expect his power number to increase considerably for the simple matter of fact he won’t be playing 81 games at PETCO Park. The Padre’s home ranked 22nd in HR’s on ESPN ballpark rankings with 0.871 HR’s ranking in comparison to Tropicana Fields 0.904. PETCO Park also ranked 28th in runs (0.860) and hits (.908).
In the charts below you can see that both Renfroe’s average and max exit velocity per each week in 2019 stack up very favourably against the Rays 2019 best hitters- Tommy Pham and Austin Meadows.
Hunter Renfroe vs Tommy Pham (Max Exit Velocity by week)
Hunter Renfroe vs Austin Meadows (Avg Exit Velocity by week)
Hunter Renfroe vs Austin Meadows (Max Exit Velocity by week)
Cost & Control
Away from the Rays acquiring a serious power source. The move is an extremely clever financial play from the Rays. Tommy Pham has 2 years of team control left and was projected to make $8.6m (MLB Trade Rumours) in arbitration this winter. In comparison Hunter Renfroe is projected to make $3.4m, a $5.2m saving for the Rays.
Gaining an extra $5.2m will allow them to be more active within free agency and now could open them up to a tier of free agents that they didn’t previously believe they could reach. It’s important to remember it won’t boil down to a trade-off of Renfroe or Pham. Instead it will likely be Renfroe + ($5m-$9m free agent) or Pham, to which the former sounds largely more appealing.
Tommy Pham is also due to hit free agency in the winter of 2022 unlike Renfroe, who in turn is due to hit free agency in the winter of 2023. Renfroe not only being cheaper, is more controllable too- something the Rays front office invests considerable value and regard in.
The Renfroe positives don’t stop there. With a fangraphs defensive value of 5.1 in 2019 and RZR of .921 compared to Pham’s defensive value of -7.5 and RZR of .903. Given the fact that the Rays play in the American league and have the ability to get Renfroe in the line-up via the DH spot instead of requiring him to play the field, I cannot see how the Rays don’t benefit from Renfroe’s addition.
If the Rays were able to use the money saved from the Pham contract ($5m) and put this into an everyday outfield, the roster flexibility for the Rays would be incredible. Kiermaier, Meadows, Renfroe and (Insert free agent) can operate in the outfield with Renfroe being able to provide violent power from the DH slot. That would then allow Nate Lowe to not get pulled into outfield help and permit him, Yandy Diaz and Ji-Man Choi to man the hot corners. A middle of the line consistent of Meadows, Lowe, Renfroe, Diaz, Choi & (insert free agent) would be among many of the league’s best.
In addition to dealing Tommy Pham, the Rays also had to part with premier dual purpose prospect Jake Cronenworth, Tampa’s 17th ranked prospect. Personally, it feels like the Rays have sold high on Cronenworth before he would likely have to specialise out of his two-way role. Despite his talents on both the mound and within the batter’s box, Cronenworth’s path to the majors appears somewhat blocked. Given he is likely to feature primarily as a shortstop in the future, his path to the big leagues was a log jammed one with Brandon Lowe & Willy Adames at the Major League level and also with Wander Franco, Lucius Fox, Vidal Brujan and Greg Jones within the Rays farm system.
In exchange for Cronenworth, the Rays managed to add Xavier Edwards- MLB’s 75 ranked prospects. Originally signed having passed on Vanderbilt commitment $2.6m in 2018 with the Padres, Edwards will provide the Rays farm system with a switch hitting speedster. Boasting strong contract from both side of the plate with elite speed, many scouts see Edwards as having the tools to make up in someone who can play centrefield. In 2019 he slashed .336/.392/.414 with an .805 OPS with 20SB in A ball.
Despite being a fan favourite, by moving Tommy Pham the Rays have gained a much needed right handed power source who has the ability to play the OF. Having ranked 21st in HRs in 2019 (217) and 15th in SLG (.431) in 2019- the Rays have long punched above their weight with regards to home runs in a very long ball heavy division. The addition of Renfroe adds a hitter with 40+ HR potential to a line up built around the very core principle of purely getting on base. With a full season and 550 plate appearances in this line up and the best part of 35 games at Camden Yards, Fenway Park, Yankee Stadium and Rodgers Centre, a slash line of .260/.320/.580 with 40HRS, 100R and 120RBI is very attainable.
When combined with the fact it saves the Rays $5m for free agency and gives them an added year of team control….and a top 75 prospect. The Rays front office has yet again given this team the greatest chance of sustained success moving forward. A+.
Photo: (Gregory Bull / Associated Press)