'Excited to be here': Renfroe connecting with old and new teammates

March 14th, 2022

PHOENIX --  reported to his new Spring Training home on Sunday with a very high-profile tour guide.

Brandon Woodruff, Renfroe’s old friend and teammate at Mississippi State, ushered him into a Brewers clubhouse where Renfroe found a former manager (Pat Murphy), a coach (Ozzie Timmons) a teammate-turned-coach (Jason Lane) and a handful of other former teammates, including Luis Urías, Eric Lauer, Luis Perdomo, Jace Peterson and Trevor Gott from San Diego’s system and Willy Adames and Mike Brosseau from Tampa Bay. When the Brewers acquired Renfroe in a trade with the Red Sox mere minutes before the start of the MLB lockout, one of his first texts was to Woodruff.

“I sent him an emoji or something, and he goes, ‘What’s that mean?’” Renfroe explained. “I said, ‘I’m going to Milwaukee.’ He goes, ‘You’re kidding me.’ He was probably the third person I called after the fact.

“We were real close at Mississippi State. He was basically my roommate. When I left Mississippi State in ’13, he was a sophomore going into his junior year and he took my spot in my house in Starkville. We were real close. We always have been. Obviously, being [an] outdoorsman and him being an outdoorsman, it helps cement that bond. We’re excited to be playing together again after about 10 years.”

Renfroe hopes to stick around for a while. The Brewers, who sent outfielder Jackie Bradley Jr. and prospects David Hamilton and Alex Binelas to Boston to acquire him, are Renfroe’s fourth team in four years. The Padres, Rays, Red Sox and Brewers all acquired him for the same thing: Power, not to mention plus defense highlighted by a strong throwing arm.

In Milwaukee, Renfroe will replace right fielder Avisaíl García, who departed via free agency and signed a four-year deal with the Marlins. Renfroe has hit at least 26 home runs in each of the last four full MLB seasons, including 33 home runs in 2019 in San Diego and 31 home runs with a career-high 96 RBIs last season in Boston, when Renfroe also posted career-highs in on-base percentage (.315) and slugging percentage (.501)

“We lost a productive player from the middle of the lineup and we replaced him in very similar fashion with a talented player who is at a stage of his career where he’s getting better,” manager Craig Counsell said.

Counsell’s introduction to Renfroe was actually an apology. Counsell had fallen asleep the night of Dec. 1, when the Brewers and Red Sox made their trade at about 10:30 p.m. CT -- a half hour before the start of the lockout. By the time Counsell learned of the trade, he was barred from contacting his new right fielder.

It was just as strange for Renfroe, who did not expect to be traded. He was arbitration-eligible this winter and has two more years of club control remaining.

“It kind of came out of nowhere for me,” Renfroe said. “I was all ready to go back to Boston, set in my ways up there. I had my conversations with our trainers and stuff after the season and everything was looking fine, and then all of a sudden -- bam -- out of nowhere at 10:30 at night I was basically asleep and my phone started ringing. It was my agent saying, ‘Call Chaim [Bloom, Boston’s top baseball executive].’ Like I said, it’s a welcome thing. I’m excited to be here and I’m looking forward to it.”

Renfroe chats with Brewers bench coach Pat Murphy and teammate Mike Brosseau.

Of moving around so much, Renfroe said, “It gets easier, I guess, every year. Obviously being here with Milwaukee, this is one of the teams I was really looking forward to talking to last year when I was a free agent. Didn’t get the opportunity to come here then and we’re pumped to be here now.”

Renfroe cited two priorities for the upcoming season: Health and timing. He’s had some minor injuries over the years, including injured list stints for neck and elbow issues while with the Padres.

Last year, he topped 500 plate appearances for the first time in his career and put together his best offensive season.

“I’m very satisfied with what I have accomplished in the box as far as my timing and stuff last year,” Renfroe said. “I think I learned a lot from J.D. [Martinez]. Not necessarily talking to J.D., but watching the way he goes about his day.”

The days ahead will move fast. Sunday marked the formal report date for the Brewers and teams across baseball, with the first exhibition games only five days away. Brewers hitters and pitchers will have separate workouts once again on Monday, but will come together beginning Tuesday for the first of two days of live batting practice sessions. On Thursday, they’ll play an intrasquad scrimmage ahead of Friday’s Cactus League opener against the Dodgers in Glendale, Ariz.

Between now and then, the Brewers are likely to have more new additions, starting with a one-year deal for veteran reliever Brad Boxberger on Sunday that includes a club option for 2023, and brings back a right-hander who led the Brewers in appearances last season. Free agency re-opened on Thursday night and Brewers officials have been active, according to Counsell.

“I think the phone is ringing a lot and it’s moving fast, so that means they’re having to make a lot of decisions, for sure,” said Counsell of Milwaukee’s baseball operations. “Everybody says [the relief market] is going to go first. I expect us to add there, yeah.”

Renfroe, meanwhile, is meeting new teammates and reconnecting with the familiar ones.

“It’s kind of funny, the whole family was saying, ‘Have you talked to this person? Have you talked to that person?’” Renfroe said. “[During the lockout] I didn’t talk to anybody. It’s fun and exciting to be a part of a new team and you don’t get to share it with anybody. It’s awesome to be here now and be back to Spring Training and get ready to play baseball.”