Unpopular Opinion: The Sox Outfield is Better Off AFTER the Renfroe Trade

Let me explain.

First off, I’m assuming 2021 was an outlier for both Hunter Renfroe and Jackie Bradley Jr. The former was DFA’ed last winter for a reason. Entering the 2021 season, Renfroe was viewed as a fringe average player, and most observers (myself included) figured he would be part of a platoon. Instead, Sox fans were pleasantly surprised with a breakout performance, one that isn’t necessarily sustainable. Personally, I believe we just witnessed a career year that’s unlikely to be duplicated. At best, Renfroe's 2022 stats could look similar to last season, but that represents his absolute ceiling, and he might not ever reach that level again. Plus, he’s only going to get older and more expensive from here on out. So in that regard, Bloom sold high on Renfroe, which was a smart move in my humble opinion.

Similarly, I don’t think JBJ is nearly as bad as his 2021 offensive number look. He might be a below average hitter, but he's had success in the past, and his track record with Boston is long enough to suggest that he could hit at a solid clip again. He's certainly not "worst hitter in the entire league" levels of inept, even if his 2021 stats indicate that he belongs in the conversation. This is a former All-Star and the 2018 ALCS MVP, not another Franchy Cordero.

Assume some positive regression to the mean, and vice versa with Renfroe. The end result is that these two players (and their future production) are probably closer than most would expect. I’m not saying that I would bet on JBJ outperforming Renfroe offensively next season, but I don’t think the gap between the two is particularly significant. I give Renfroe a slight edge at the plate, but JBJ gets a bigger edge with the glove. Regardless, neither player is clearly better than the other.

So the Red Sox gained 2 decent prospects for taking on a little bit of money in a relatively marginal swap of outfielders. However, Boston received more than just prospects. They also improved their outfield defense and increased their overall flexibility.

Before this trade, Kike Hernandez was truly Boston’s only adequate option in center field. Yes, I’ve seen Renfroe and Verdugo each out in center before, but that doesn’t mean either of them belongs there. The only defensively acceptable outfield alignment prior to the trade was Kike in center, with Renfroe in right, and Dugie in left. Anything else would leave the Red Sox defense vulnerable in center field, and possibly right field as well. Hopefully Jarren Duran can become a quality major league caliber outfielder in 2022, but committing to that assumption without any sort of backup plan would be irresponsible. Furthermore, one injury would open up the possibility of JDM routinely putting on a glove, and nobody pulling for the Red Sox wants that. Now, Boston has multiple options in center field, a more clearly defined path to regular playing time for Duran, and the ability to move Kike around as Cora sees fit.

Some critics of this deal will say that it leaves Boston’s outfield incomplete; that another addition is now vital. While I agree with that notion, I would also argue that this was always the case, even before the trade was finalized. There was very little depth behind the starting group of Verdugo/Hernandez/Renfroe, and none of that depth could be categorized as reliable. The difference between that now-outdated depth chart and the current situation is that Boston’s previous outfield needs would have limited Bloom’s choices as far as who to add. A couple weeks ago, Boston needed to add an outfielder capable of playing center, preferably a LH hitter, while trying to avoid creating a logjam that would block Jarren Duran from seeing playing time. Presently, the Red Sox still need to add an outfielder, but that outfielder doesn’t necessarily have to check all the same boxes. It could be another traditional center fielder or a corner outfielder, and the defense wouldn’t suffer. It could be a RH hitter like Seiya Suzuki or a LH bat like Schwarber (is there a switch hitting OF available?) and the lineup would still have enough balance.

The way I see it, this trade technically didn’t shorten Bloom’s To Do list, but it reduced his workload by making said list a little bit easier. He swapped out one fairly elusive need for a similar need that should be much more obtainable. Between the defensive gains, the prospects involved, and the added bonus of a fun reunion, I view this move as a constructive use of resources. Not great, but good. If I'm forced to hand out a premature grade, I’d give it a B+ although it’s obviously too early to make a final call.