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Red Sox sign Hunter Renfroe to a one-year contract

And the outfield picture becomes a bit clearer. Maybe.

World Series - Los Angeles Dodgers v Tampa Bay Rays - Game Four Photo by Ronald Martinez/Getty Images

In this slow-moving offseason, we have been waiting to see what area of need the Red Sox would address first. There are multiple areas of the roster that need to be shored up, and heading into this week there haven’t been many clear indications as to what they’re thinking strategy-wise. That changed today when the team made its first free agent signing of the winter. They announced Monday that they have signed outfielder Hunter Renfroe to a one-year deal.

The terms of the contract are not official as of this writing, though Alex Speier reports it is a base salary of $3.1 million with bonuses that could add an additional $600,000 to the total.

Renfroe, a right-handed hitter who turns 29 in January, spent 2020 with the Rays after spending his previous four seasons with the Padres. He is a former first round pick by the Padres, and prior to that he was actually drafted by Boston out of high school as a catcher in the 31st round, but he did not sign. As a major leaguer, he’s had an up-and-down career, with 2018 representing the peak to this point, at least from an offensive perspective. That year, he hit .248/.302/.504 for a 114 wRC+, the only season he’s been better than average by that metric. In 2019, he did put up a 98 mark that was essentially average, and played great defense along with it.

This past summer was a rough one, however. Renfroe finished the 2020 season hitting just .156/.252/.393 for a 76 wRC+. As a result, he was designated for assignment in November when the Rays had to make room on their 40-man roster for their Rule 5 protections.

Looking ahead, Renfroe could fit as either a part-time or everyday player for the Red Sox, depending on how much they want to spend on the outfield. As a part-time player, he could be utilized most effectively against left-handed pitching. Over the course of his career, he boasts a 137 wRC+ against southpaws.

If the Red Sox believe in the defense, however, he could also be the new everyday right fielder, shifting Alex Verdugo into center field and allowing them to focus largely on pitching the rest of the winter. It’s up for debate how one views Renfroe’s defense, as the metrics have been all over the place. As I mentioned he was stellar in 2019, but he’s been hovering around or even a bit below average for the rest of his career. Given how the Red Sox feel about right field defense at Fenway, as well as the potential downgrade defensively in center field with Verdugo sliding over, they may not want to stop with additions to their outfield here.

That said, there is real upside here as Renfroe is still under 30, has had success relatively recently in the majors, and can hit for power. As a right-handed hitter with pull tendencies and a fly ball approach, it’s not hard to see him using the Monster to his advantage for plenty of extra base hits. If things do work out, Renfroe will be arbitration-eligible for two more seasons after the upcoming one as well.

We’ll have more on this signing and a more granular look at Renfroe as a player as well as his fit with the Red Sox in the coming days, but for now we can rejoice that something has actually happened.