Coming right in before the owner’s lockout of the players became official and transactions were frozen around the league, the Boston Red Sox and Milwaukee Brewers surprised us all with a trade that came out of nowhere. In case you’ve somehow missed it, Boston sent Hunter Renfroe to the Brewers in exchange for Jackie Bradley Jr. and prospects Alex Binelas and David Hamilton. The specific trade certainly came out of nowhere, as we said, but the idea of trading an outfielder, and Renfroe specifically, was not exactly out of nowhere. It’s been a logical direction for this winter to take, and we mentioned the possibility a few times over the last month or so.
With regards to Renfroe, it’s sort of a basic sell high philosophy that leads to why this deal would happen. There’s certainly no guarantee that what the Red Sox got from their right fielder is a peak performance from him and his value is at its highest, but based on his history it’s a relatively safe bet. Renfroe’s 2021 was tied for his best at the plate by wRC+ and it was only the second time in five years he’s been better than average by that metric. Even by the eye test, he was streaky enough that the production did feel like a house of cards ready to crumble at any moment.
So with that line of thinking, it makes sense to trade him in a vacuum, but of course we are not in a vacuum and the Red Sox are ostensibly a contending team. Even a regressed Renfroe is likely a better option than Bradley, and while the prospects they got are interesting they are hard to justify unless there is another move coming. And that brings us to why the idea of trading an outfielder was so interesting, and what comes next. Presumably they are going to now look for some sort of upgrade over Renfroe now, giving them the immediate improvement on the field to go with the prospects who came back from the trade. And looking at the remaining players available, there are a few different profiles Chaim Bloom and company can look at.
Given the seeming state of the CBA negotiations, it sure appears we’re going to have a lot of time on our hands this winter before transactions start up again, so we’ll have plenty of time to look at all of these options on an individual basis, but for now we’re going to focus on the different types of players available, starting with the defensive liabilities. One of the advantages of playing at Fenway is that you can often hide defensive liabilities in left field. The Monster is certainly a learning curve, and it’s not a cake walk out there, but the area of coverage is small so the Red Sox can hide, say, Manny Ramirez out there for the better part of a decade. Ideally, Kyle Schwarber and Nick Castellanos would settle in as DH’s, but the Red Sox could afford to play them in left field, even if it’s just for a year while they wait for J.D. Martinez’s contract to end.
Either one of those players would be a fairly significant splash and would add some thump to the lineup, but perhaps Bloom and the front office don’t want to punt on defense so aggressively. That doesn’t remove any type of splash option. Perhaps the most intriguing name is the big risk on the market in Seiya Suzuki. Whispers have connected Boston to the NPB star, and it makes sense. He could play any spot in the outfield and he’s been one of the biggest stars in Japan for years now. There’s always a risk in how numbers from foreign leagues will translate to the majors, but he’s got a whole lot of the tools you’re looking for.
Similarly, Kris Bryant wouldn’t be a defensive liability and would be a big splash in terms of production, money, and name value. The biggest issue for Bryant’s markets is that teams who see him as an infielder would likely be willing to pay more than the Red Sox, who likely would have him in left field in this scenario unless they were ready to make a move with Rafael Devers’ position, though that doesn’t appear in the cards. On the other hand, given the money the team saved by not making a big splash in the rotation, perhaps they’d be more willing to pay up for Bryant’s bat even with him moving down the defensive spectrum in their plans.
And then while there are splash options available, there are some mid-tier targets who could be attractive, though they’d also be underwhelming compared to expectations. Bloom has indicated he’d prefer a right-handed bat so we’ll cross off names like Eddie Rosario and Joc Pederson (Schwarber is, of course, a lefty, but I think his talent is such that he’d be exempt from and handedness preferences), but someone like Tommy Pham would fit the bill. Plus, he’s a former Ray, which makes the connection that much more possible. Andrew McCutchen could fit that bill as well. Those names would be a disappointment unless they were paired with an unexpected splash at another position of need, but the possibility is certainly there.
That’s just the free agents, too. It’s always easiest to predict signings as compared to trades since we know who’s available on the open market, but the Red Sox could surprise us with a big swing in trade as well. The names are less clear, but perhaps they try to swing something big for someone like Bryan Reynolds from the Pirates. I’d expect them to prefer spending money compared to prospects, but everything is on the table.
We should also mention the possibility of just standing pat in the outfield, which would come to me as a major surprise but probably shouldn’t be dismissed totally out of hand. It’s possible the Red Sox are hoping to save some money and/or prospects here and are confident that Bradley’s bat will recover enough that his defense provides enough of a floor for a full-time major leaguer. That would also fit in the disappointment category, and it feels unlikely, but it is indeed one of the many routes that can be traversed.
The fullness of the table is the point here, too. The Red Sox don’t get full marks for the Renfroe deal because, as we’ve talked about, it all comes down to what they do next. If they can get a clear upgrade over Renfroe and take those prospects as the cost of doing business, that’s a big win. And there are a handful of viable options who would represent that upgrade. It’s why this kind of trade always made sense, leaving Boston a whole lot of paths to take to improve their 2022 roster. Now it’s just about which path is taken.