Jon’s Take: Breaking down the Hunter Renfroe trade 

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Boston Red Sox relief pitcher Adam Ottavino (0) throws the ball in the eighth inning against the Houston Astros during game six of the 2021 ALCS at Minute Maid Park. Photo by Thomas Shea-USA TODAY Sports.

Under an hour before Major League Baseball regressed into a state of hibernation, brought on by a league-wide lockout over a new collective bargaining agreement, Red Sox Chief Baseball Officer Chaim Bloom was still making deals. The one he made at the buzzer last Wednesday night seemed a little stunning at first, as Boston traded away slugging center fielder Hunter Renfroe for hometown favorite Jackie Bradley Jr. and two prospects. Is it really as bad as I first thought, or did Bloom pull a rabbit out of his hat? Let’s break it down: 

For now, let’s just focus on the two players currently at the big-league level in Renfroe and Bradley. Renfroe, still in arbitration, is set to likely make a little more than the $3.1 million he made in 2021. Bradley, who already hit free agency, is slated to make $13 million in the coming year. From a very rough estimation, it looks like the Red Sox are adding on another $5million to $10 million to their payroll. Curious. 

What seems even more curious, though, is Renfroe’s standing with the team. Boston signed him to be a formidable outfielder that could hit in the sixth slot, and he exceeded expectations for most of the year. The slugger had a career year with the Sox, slashing .259/.315/.501, all bests besides slugging percentage (.504 in 2018) in seasons he played over 100 games. Renfroe hit 31 bombs and drove in 96 runs, which is more than enough offensive output from your six batter. 

In terms of fielding, Renfroe’s play was a bit of a head-scratcher. While he led the American League in both assists as an outfielder and double plays as a right fielder, he also led in errors among all outfielders. He has an absolute cannon of an arm, ending games with putouts but also giving up extra bases due to not hitting the cutoff man. All in all, he is a net-negative fielder in terms of league average, personally giving up approximately eight more runs than the average fielder would in 2021. 

One of the biggest knocks against Renfroe was his horrific postseason showing this past year. Expected to be a big contributor to the offense, he made Boston look like they had a pitcher hitting in the middle of their lineup. In the ALDS, he put up a solid batting average of .294, but only had one XBH (a double), struck out twice and grounded into three double plays. The ALCS performance was even worse, as he slashed .063/.250/.125, grounding into more double plays (two) than he had hits (one). Both series saw the Red Sox lowering their chances to win by more than 4% directly because of Renfroe’s offense, according to Baseball Reference. 

Meanwhile, let’s look at the incoming Jackie Bradley Jr. He was a first round pick for Boston and saw a big-league role there for eight years before leaving in free agency. He is a slightly-below average hitter in terms of career numbers, slashing .230/.311/.394 all-time. It’s been up-and-down for Bradley in the last two years, as he hit .283 with a .814 OPS in a shortened 2020 season but hit just .163 with a .497 OPS in his only season with Milwaukee. His bat was atrocious this past year, but may pick back up again in his contract year, playing for his former team.  

The big draw for Bradley is his glove, as the Gold Glove winner is known for his arm and his highlight catches. He has committed zero errors in the field in 2020 and 2021, and saved approximately 10 runs in the field last season, 18 more than the aforementioned Renfroe. 

“True center fielders are hard to find and we feel we now have two of the best at that position. So what he brings to our roster is a very hard thing to find. Obviously moving Hunter [Renfroe] leaves a hole, but we felt having two premium defensive center fielders is a huge boost to our roster…” Bloom said at his press conference. 

He’s not wrong, either. The dimensions of Fenway Park leave massive spaces in both center and right, citing a need for two “true center fielders.” The team formerly had that in Mookie Betts and Bradley in 2019, and now hope to have it with Bradley and last year’s center fielder Enrique Hernandez. 

Contrary to Renfroe, Bradley has actually performed well for the Red Sox in the postseason, most notably winning ALCS MVP in 2018 en route to the team’s four championship since 2004. In that 2018 run, his offense improved the odds of winning by -0.03%, 11.9% and 0.8% in the ALDS, ALCS and World Series, respectively. While not overpowering on average, it’s certainly better than the production Boston got from Renfroe. 

So, okay, the Red Sox paid a little bit more money to get a much better fielder but a much worse hitter, plus two prospects. They sold high on Renfroe’s breakout year and bought low on Bradley’s struggles. Is that what this team needed? 

The short answer is yes. Bloom’s plan for the team has been improving the roster for the long and short terms, and the prospects certainly help the long term case. For now, the lineup loses a solid six hitter, but gains something even more valuable in some quality defense.  

It’s not a flashy decision by any means, but this is a Red Sox team that ranked second in errors for all of MLB. In terms of fielding independent pitching (FIP) compared to earned run average (ERA), the Red Sox ranked fourth in the difference between those two, giving up an extra estimated .32 runs per game because of below average fielding. The only teams lower than them in this ranking are the Orioles, Rockies and Angels. Good teams typically save runs because of their fielding, like the Dodgers or Rays, who save .51 and .13 runs per game, respectively. 

Obviously, Bradley can’t play all over the field like he’s Bugs Bunny. But it’s definitely a step in the right direction, especially if he can produce at least up to his career average at the plate next year. 

The other key pieces of this trade were the prospects Boston got alongside Bradley. The more notable of the two was 2021 3rd round pick Alex Binelas. The third baseman slides in as the 16th ranked prospect in the farm system, according to MLB.com.  

His left-handed power is likely what caught Bloom’s eye, as he received a 55 power scouting grade. Binelas can hit to all fields and draw walks when needed, but has been known to go through slumps. He slashed a solid .309/.390/.583 in 36 games of low A and rookie ball this year.  

While Binelas currently plays at third, scouts are projecting a switch to a corner outfield position at some point in his career. He is projected to come up to the big leagues around 2024.  

The other prospect, David Hamilton, is intriguing as well. His most notable asset is his speed, as he stole 52 bases in 101 games in high A and AA ball this past year. The 2019 8th round pick slashed .258/.341/.419 alongside the stolen bases as well. This was his first true year in the minors, as he missed the last two seasons due to injuries and the pandemic.  

While Hunter Renfroe’s bat will be missed in the lineup, Bloom definitely knows what he’s doing in a trade like this. I’m not saying the Brewers will regret gaining Renfroe, but the Red Sox certainly will get their return on investment from Bradley’s defense and the intrigue of the two prospects. 

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