By Alec Walt
The Boston Red Sox dipped into the free agent pool Monday afternoon, adding depth into its thin outfield. After hearing rumors of George Springer, Marcell Ozuna, Eddie Rosario, and Jackie Bradley Jr., the Red Sox decided to go with a cheaper alternative for 2021. Former Tampa Bay Rays outfielder Hunter Renfroe agreed to a one-year, $3.1 million contract with the Red Sox. Renfroe took the final open spot on the Red Sox current 40-man roster.
— Red Sox (@RedSox) December 14, 2020
Renfroe began his career with the San Diego Padres in 2016 before last December’s trade to Tampa Bay. His time in Central Florida wasn’t the most memorable after finishing the regular season with a .156 batting average, eight home runs and 22 RBI’s. The postseason numbers weren’t much better, batting .174 while striking out in 11 of 24 plate appearances. The Rays designated Renfroe for assignment after the rough season.
The Red Sox are investing in a potential bounce back season with very little risk. In three previous seasons in San Diego, Renfroe averaged 28.3 home runs and 63.3 RBI. Batting average unfortunately isn’t a strength, as he’s never hit above .250 during a full season, there’s bounce back potential here towards the bottom of a very deep lineup. Expect most of his impact to come against left-handed pitching.
While the arm side didn’t affect Renfroe too much in 2020, he’s a solid hitter against left-handed pitching. Renfroe has a .258 batting average, .339 on-base percentage, .573 slugging percentage, .912 OPS and 36 home runs in his career against lefties. But after his 2020 season, it’s unrealistic to expect him to play every day, so expect his role in 2021 to start vs. lefties and pinch hit when a lefty comes out of the bullpen.
Renfroe joins a Red Sox outfield with Alex Verdugo and Andrew Benintendi. All three are primarily corner outfielders, but Benintendi and Verdugo have some experience playing in center field. Even though both can move to center, Benintendi struggles where Renfroe is his most productive. Benintendi’s career average against lefties is .243 and 40 points lower than his career against right-handed pitching. He also has a career .328 OBP, .363 slugging and .691 OPS vs. lefties.
The regression the last few seasons for Benintendi has been concerning. He only played 14 games last season and barely hit above .100 in those games. He’s also seen a decrease in home runs, RBI and stolen bases each season from 2017 to 2019. Renfroe provides the Red Sox a better matchup vs. lefties if Benintendi doesn’t bounce back next season. Now, all they need is a defensive-minded outfielder to complete the rotation.
The addition of Renfroe adds outfield depth and improves the bottom of an already deep lineup vs. left-handed pitching. This move doesn’t make the Red Sox any closer to a World Series, but he gives the Red Sox a cheap option for 2021 with little outfield depth in the system. The Red Sox aren’t in a position to contend in 2021 and sit near the bottom of a tough division. There’s no reason to believe this offseason is the best time for this team to spend money. Expect more signings similar to Renfroe. Hopefully the Red Sox can get the best out of him in 2021 and move on from last season.