On Monday, the Boston Red Sox signed recently non-tendered outfielder Hunter Renfroe to a one-year, $3.1 million contract.
The deal could be worth up to $3.7 million for 2021, plus an additional two years should the team decide to tender him a contract in 2022 and beyond.
At face value, this move seems to be more along the lines of shoring up bench depth. Renfroe, 28, hasn’t lived up to the expectations surrounding him as a former 13th overall pick in 2013. In four years (plus 11 games in 2016), Renfroe has slashed .228/.290/.486 with a .324 wOBA and a wRC+ of 102. He’s also slugged 97 home runs, added 75 doubles, and has a career ISO of .257.
The clear-cut definition of a boom-or-bust player, as 29.4 percent of his career hits have left the yard, and 28 percent of his total plate appearances end with strike three.
But that’s enough about the signing itself. With such a low-financial risk in Renfroe, the team still has money to spend on the outfield position. Chief Baseball Officer Chaim Bloom didn’t exactly close the book on adding to the outfield room either.
So, where could the team go from here? Let’s check out three possible routes.
Pederson will most likely end up in a situation that allows him to play every day, and Boston doesn’t present that as constructed. However, if the team wants to platoon Renfroe (career 137 wRC+ against left-handers, 87 versus righties), Pederson would be the perfect guy to do so with (128 wRC+ against righties, 59 against lefties).
To make things even better, Alex Cora wouldn’t have to get overly creative with the outfield alignment to make it work. Pederson’s sample size as a right fielder is limited––6.7 percent of his 4,859.1 defensive innings as an outfielder––but he’s played the position to a plus-six in the defensive runs saved (DRS) department and plus-three in terms of outs above average (OAA).
Right field at Fenway Park is a much tougher ask than that of Dodger Stadium, but that bridge can be crossed once it’s met. Worst case scenario, however, Alex Cora has to put Pederson in left field, Andrew Benintendi in center field, and Alex Verdugo in right field.
Pederson, much like Renfroe, is coming off of the worst season of his career. In 43 games, the slugger slashed .190/.285/.397 with a .297 wOBA and a wRC+ of 88, while Renfroe’s numbers were .156/.252/.393, .277, and 76, respectively. Pederson is more sure-fire at the position and should rank highly among the candidates for a strong bounce-back campaign in 2021, given his expected statistics. All in all, he makes perfect sense in a platoon role with Hunter Renfroe.
Once he was non-tendered by the Minnesota Twins, reports linked Boston to the former fourth-round pick.
In 2020, Rosario slashed .257/.316/.476 with a wOBA of .333 and a wRC+ of 110. He also accumulated 0.9 FanGraphs’ wins above replacement (fWAR) and hit 13 home runs in 57 games. Rosario’s appeal stems from Alex Cora recruiting him to join Puerto Rico ahead of the last World Baseball Classic. However, one must question his fit in the lineup.
Yes, Rosario is a legit power threat in the middle of the lineup. But his walk-rate is an abysmal 4.7 percent for his career, not to mention he hits many fly balls to right-field, which turn into a lot of non-competitive outs at Fenway Park. Yes, he’s a tough guy to strike out, but if he’s still not reaching base, it’s almost moot.
Not to mention Rosario is one of the worst defensive outfielders in baseball year in and year out (-23 OAA since 2017). The Red Sox would have to decide if his potential spark offensively is worth putting him in the outfield every day––or if they’d have to play J.D. Martinez defensively more.
That being said, he does have appealing splits in terms of potential use in a platoon (110 wRC+ against righties, 88 against lefties). If he can somehow improve his ability to reach base, he could be a reliable low-risk platoon option alongside Renfroe.
Jackie Bradley Jr.
Red Sox fans certainly have a love-hate relationship with Bradley’s offensive prowess. For months on end, the 30-year-old will be one of the worst hitters on the planet, borderline unplayable. Then, as if a switch flipped, he’ll go on a six-week hot streak where he can’t miss a pitch in the zone.
In a 60-game 2020 season, Bradley was able to have abbreviated versions of both sides, but ended up slashing .283/.364/.450 with a wOBA of .352 and a wRC+ of 119. He also matched his 2019 output in fWAR (1.4) and was on pace to best his 2018 version had it been a regular, 162-game schedule.
Bradley’s value will always be on the defensive side of the ball, where he’s racked up 48 DRS and 46 OAA in center field for his career. His defense is so exemplary that it more than makes up for the deficiencies of Andrew Benintendi in left.
Listening to some of his comments during the waning weeks of the season, it sounded like Bradley is more than open to leaving Boston. However, the opportunity to make the most money possible may be best served for Bradley in 2021 and beyond. Chaim Bloom could realistically offer Bradley a one-year deal for anywhere from $13-$15 million, allowing the soon-to-be 31-year-old center fielder to re-enter the market next winter.
The market is far from appealing ahead of the 2022 season, so Bradley could realistically land a four- or five-year deal at 32.