ST. PETERSBURG -- En route to building one of the best teams in the American League, the Rays have had a lot of success in some of the recent trades they’ve executed. One deal that hasn’t gone as planned is the deal that landed Hunter Renfroe and top infield prospect Xavier Edwards in exchange for Tommy Pham and Jake Cronenworth.
Since both teams executed that deal last December, Cronenworth finished third in this year’s National League Rookie of the Year voting, Pham battled through an injury-plagued season but is a prime bounce-back candidate in the final year of his contract. And while scouts believe the Rays have a perennial All-Star in Edwards, the club was only able to get 122 at-bats from Renfroe, who was designated for assignment, along with infielder/outfielder Brian O'Grady before Friday's deadline to protect prospects from the Rule 5 Draft.
“I don’t think we would go back and do anything differently, and I think we were very happy with the contributions that Hunter added this year, and we all saw it in the playoffs,” said Rays vice president of baseball development Peter Bendix. “I think we got what we were hoping to get from him and some other guys also stepped up, and we made other moves that added to our outfield logjam in a way that I don’t think we would’ve anticipated a year ago.”
Renfroe, who slashed .156/.252/.393 in his lone season with the Rays, was going to be a likely non-tender candidate before the Dec. 2 deadline for teams to tender contracts to any unsigned players on the 40-man roster, according to Bendix. MLB Trade Rumors projected Renfroe to earn more than $3.5 million in 2021 via arbitration.
With Kevin Kiermaier, Austin Meadows, Brett Phillips, Manuel Margot, Yoshi Tsutsugo on the roster alongside the emergence of postseason star Randy Arozarena, the Rays weren’t prepared to commit to Renfroe at that figure.
The Renfroe decision was the latest move for the Rays in what has been a busy start to the offseason for AL champions. Last month, Tampa Bay declined options on Charlie Morton and Mike Zunino while also waiving Michael Perez, Chaz Roe and Andrew Kittredge.
“We figured that it was best for everybody involved to let him get into the free-agent market at this point rather than waiting until the non-tender deadline and happen later,” Bendix said. “Not closing the door on anything with him, but just figured it was better to do it now.”
Lowe and Walls spent the entire season at the club’s alternate training site in Port Charlotte, Fla. Lowe, who is the organization’s No. 10 prospect per MLB Pipeline and the younger brother of infielder Nate Lowe, has hit 37 home runs and stolen 72 bases over four Minor League seasons. Lowe was also named the best defensive outfielder in the Rays’ organization by Baseball America.
Walls, the team’s No. 17 prospect, is a career .277 hitter over three Minor League seasons and was tabbed by Baseball America as the best defensive infielder and best infield arm in the Rays’ system.
“With Josh Lowe and Taylor Walls, we got to see them a lot,” Bendix said. “And both were as impressive as they’ve been in past years, if not more so. Our player development staff raved about each guy and the development they’ve had, just kind of maturing as baseball players, and both of them playing premium positions and being really well-rounded guys that add to our crop of young players.”
Strotman was not part of the Rays’ 60-man player pool this season, but he was one of the standouts in the team’s instructional league in October. After missing most of the 2019 season due to Tommy John surgery, Strotman impressed the Rays with good velocity on his pitches, as well as the addition of a cutter. He last pitched for Class A Advanced Charlotte in '19, but Strotman has a chance to make an impact with the Major League roster due to the injuries to Brendan McKay, Jalen Beeks and Yonny Chirinos.
With the moves on Friday, the Rays’ 40-man roster is now full.