Brewers Fill Specific Need with Hunter Renfroe Trade

Late Wednesday night, the Red Sox and Brewers consummated a trade that sent rightfielder Hunter Renfroe to Milwaukee in exchange for centerfielder Jackie Bradley Jr. and two prospects, shortstop David Hamilton and first baseman Alex Binelas. It was the last agreed-upon trade prior to MLB owners locking out the players at midnight.

While Bradley has had an excellent big league career, the center of this trade is Renfroe, who heads to his fourth team in four years and is coming off a 2021 in which he slashed .259/.315/.501 and cleared the 30-homer benchmark for the second time in his career. He becomes the fourth right-handed hitter acquired by Milwaukee over the last couple of weeks, after corner infielder Mike Brosseau, catcher Pedro Severino, and non-roster invite centerfielder Jonathan Davis. By wRC+, Milwaukee was 26th in baseball against left-handed pitching (96) in 2021; Renfroe is a career .263/.346/.557 hitter against southpaws and should help in this area immediately. And while there’s not a clear platoon partner for him in Milwaukee right now, perhaps Jace Peterson or Rowdy Tellez will take key late-game at-bats against righties in his stead or make the occasional start. Renfroe’s defense — especially his incredible arm, which is one of the best in pro baseball — gives him a little extra utility on days when he’s starting against a righty.

Renfroe has two years of team control remaining, as 2022 will be his second arbitration year and ’23 will be his last before hitting free agency after the season. Milwaukee has some similarly-skilled outfield prospects on the way in Joe Gray Jr. and Joey Wiemer, but unless they ascend more quickly than expected, it’s a safer bet that Renfroe wraps his pre-free agency days as a key cog in Milwaukee.

Conversely, this trade leaves Boston without a powerful, right-handed hitting outfielder on their roster. Obviously the Red Sox can continue to shape their roster after the lockout ends, but its current composition is heavy on lefty sticks in the outfield (Bradley, Jarren Duran, Alex Verdugo). The on-roster solution is for Christian Arroyo to get infield starts against lefties with Enrique Hernández moving to the outfield on those days. Another path may be for Jeter Downs (who had a terrible summer, rebounded in the Fall League, and was added to the 40-man last month) to push for at-bats in a fashion similar to Arroyo or be present depth behind him, as Arroyo gets hurt a lot. Or Triston Casas could kick down the door and claim the everyday first base job at some point, which would open up a lefty-mashing four corners role for Bobby Dalbec. There are clear, on-roster avenues for Boston’s pieces to compliment one another, though the front office probably is not done shaping the fringes of the roster.

Boston was also able to add two prospects in this trade in the speedy Hamilton and powerful Binelas. Hamilton, 24, only started seeing regular pro at-bats in 2021; he tore his Achilles during his draft year (2019) at Texas and missed his junior spring and what would have been his first pro summer, then was limited to spring training and instructional league in ’20 due to the cancellation of the minor league season. In his first affiliated at-bats last season, he hit .258/.341/.419 across High- and Double-A with 52 steals in 61 attempts, wrapping up his season with a few weeks of Arizona Fall League reps.

Hamilton’s ball/strike recognition, speed, and defensive acumen make him a high-probability role-playing infielder, and his feel to hit arguably makes him a more stable (but lower-ceiling) prospect than Downs, who will either hit enough to be an everyday second baseman or not. Look for Hamilton to be added to Boston’s 40-man roster next offseason. (This trade also creates a sort of reunion between him and Hudson Potts, who shared the left side of Texas’ Area Code infield way back in 2015.) Hamilton entered 2021 as a 40+ FV prospect — a likely 40 (light-hitting utility infielder) with some tip-of-the-iceberg upside created by all his time off. After a full season and lots of in-person looks, he’s likely to be a low-variance 40 FV on the offseason Red Sox prospect list.

Binelas’ triple slash line as a freshman at Louisville (.291/.383/.612) put him in this draft class’ first-round mix, even though he doesn’t have premium physical tools. His peripherals (a 20% strikeout rate, twice his walk rate) were not as dominant, and scouts were eager to see if he could repeat or improve upon his 2019, but a wrist injury and COVID-19 limited him to just two games in 2020. Then he struggled early in ’21 before getting hot for about a month in the middle of the college season and again during conference tournament play. Binelas is short to the ball and has big, majestic power, but his swing is fairly grooved. He struggles to contact fastballs up and away from him and has a scary strikeout-to-walk ratio for a corner infielder. He looks like a corner platoon bat who could move quickly. Boston’s recent draft/trade trends lean toward players like him, who perform on paper but fit toward the bottom of the defensive spectrum.

While it’s likely that Bradley Jr. can still play good-enough defense to have a situational role in Boston, his rough 2021 offensive statline and underlying metrics indicate the sun may be setting on his outstanding baseball career. He had career-worst strikeout and walk rates in 2021 and a career-low barrel rate, and his power output has been trending down every year since ’18. At $9.5 million this year, the Brewers had to attach prospects to Bradley to help facilitate this deal and bridge the $2 million gap between his salary and Renfroe’s projected arbitration number. Unless he bounces back in a meaningful way, his 2023 mutual option is all but certain to be turned down by the Red Sox. In the meantime, he’ll have the opportunity to add to his already long, important career narrative in the place where the pro portion of it began.





Eric Longenhagen is from Catasauqua, PA and currently lives in Tempe, AZ. He spent four years working for the Phillies Triple-A affiliate, two with Baseball Info Solutions and two contributing to prospect coverage at ESPN.com. Previous work can also be found at Sports On Earth, CrashburnAlley and Prospect Insider.

47 Comments
Oldest
Newest Most Voted
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments
sadtrombonemember
1 year ago

I like Binelas and Hamilton a bit and don’t like Hunter Renfroe, who is a pretty one-dimensional guy who mashes left-handed pitching and can make big throws from right field but otherwise isn’t much to talk about. He’s a 2-win guy if everything breaks right.

I realize that the motivation here is moving on from the regrettable Jackie Bradley Jr signing but it hurts when you basically have to let other teams buy bad contracts from you.

Roman Ajzenmember
1 year ago
Reply to  sadtrombone

I think there’s more surplus value to Renfroe than you are giving him credit for, which helps account for the prospect value attached to JBJ’s carcass. Renfroe has out-WAR’d JBJ 3.5 to 2.1 since 2019 and is coming off a good year (even if the defense tailed off a bit).

Renfroe’s wRC+ vs RHP last year was 102 (vs 91 for his career), so he’s not completely limited to a short side platoon but I’m sure there are ways to optimize his matchups vs RHP to limit the damage. I also wonder how much he’ll benefit from the move out of Fenway as he’s a dead pull hitter and likely lost a few HRs to the monster. Savant says he would have had 4 extra HRs at Miller Field and the rest of the division’s stadiums are better for him on average (to say nothing of the quality of opposing pitchers).

sadtrombonemember
1 year ago
Reply to  Roman Ajzen

Renfroe is always going to be a bit of a polarizing player because low-OBP high-HR players tend to get overpaid in arbitration. Renfroe, in his best offensive season, had an OBP of .315. That’s not good! (although 30 homers is very good)

It’s worth noting that this is the third time an analytic-minded team has thought they could make do with Renfroe and the second time an analytic-minded team has given up on him. I’ve always been skeptical that this guy was good enough to play everyday but he’d be a fantastic platoon partner for Joc Pederson.

Mitchell Mooremember
1 year ago
Reply to  Roman Ajzen

“Even if the defense tailed off a bit.” SSS sure, butI saw the Renfro play six games against the squad I root for, and the man was an absolute butcher in the field.

drewsylvaniamember
1 year ago
Reply to  Mitchell Moore

Great arm, range is just okay.

tbwhite67member
1 year ago
Reply to  Mitchell Moore

He’s led the league in errors twice. He’s also a terrible baserunner, and has exhibited a lack of baseball smarts and complete cluelessness about game situations. My least favorite memory of Renfroe as a Padre was when he slowed to walk as he approach home plate to score because he was mesmerized watching his teammate being thrown out at 2B for the 3rd out of the inning, costing his team a run. He is a sublimely stupid player. I guarantee that if the game is tied in the bottom of the 9th and the bases are loaded Hunter will be up there trying to hit a 500ft grand slam and probably strike out in the process. Good luck Brewers fans!

tz
1 year ago
Reply to  sadtrombone

I think the key here is Hamilton, who I’m probably higher on than most folks are. Unless Mayer blasts through the minors strongly enough to give comfort that he’s MLB ready for 2023, the Sox will need a legit SS in the increasingly likely event that Bogaerts leaves after next year (I don’t see Bloom giving him the 8/200 range deal he’ll be able to command after opting out). I think Hamilton falls somewhere on a spectrum between Nicky Lopez and Adalberto Mondesi, the key being that he is a legit SS vs. a stretch SS like Jeter Downs.

I think the LHB/RHB imbalance this deal creates is far easier to solve than the lack of MLB ready options for the middle infield. Selling high on Renfroe to get that organizational depth looks like a good move to me.