Sometimes a trade takes a player by surprise. Not Hunter Renfroe, who has been through this before.
The Brewers dealt Renfroe to the Angels this week for a bunch of reasons, all covered in our story from that night. He was entering his final season before free agency, and teams like the Brewers don’t like letting players walk without replenishing organizational talent. They felt they were dealing from a position of strength, with multiple outfield prospects knocking on the door of the big leagues. Then, there’s the payroll picture. Cot’s Baseball Contracts estimates Renfroe will earn north of $11 million this winter in his final year of arbitration.
For all of those reasons, Renfroe said, without any animus, “It was one of the deals where you kind of saw it coming.”
It marks the fourth straight year he’s been on the move around this time. On Dec. 6, 2019, the Padres traded Renfroe to the Rays for Jake Cronenworth and Tommy Pham. On Nov. 26, 2020, the Rays non-tendered Renfroe, and he signed with the Red Sox less than three weeks later. On Dec. 1, 2021, the Red Sox traded him to the Brewers just a few minutes before the start of MLB’s lockout. And on Tuesday night, he was traded again.
“Obviously, considering the other four times, I kind of know what happens during this time of the year,” Renfroe said. “But also, I can see the writing on the wall, as far as how much money that the Brewers were going to have put into arbitration guys. Their money was going to be climbing pretty good. And being not necessarily a small-market team, but a middle-market team, knowing that they do have a place where they like to be money-wise, and [the desire] to get some of the young guys from Triple-A out there, you saw the writing on the wall a little bit. They had to make some room.”
Sal Frelick, Joey Wiemer, Garrett Mitchell and Esteury Ruiz all rank among MLB Pipeline’s top eight Brewers prospects. They will all have a shot to compete for Renfroe’s at-bats. So will switch-hitter Blake Perkins, who signed a one-year Major League contract with Milwaukee on Wednesday.
“I love the kids that we brought up through the year,” Renfroe said. “Mitchell is a great kid. He has a lot of learning to do still, and I think that's part of his growing-up process. A lot of the growing-up process is getting your feet wet at the Major League level, and the only way to get ready for the Major Leagues is to play in the Major Leagues.
“I had the same thing with San Diego. I was brought up, and my first year there we had guys like Justin Upton, Matt Kemp, big-name guys like that. I had to get my feet wet with those guys. It's part of baseball. To get those guys ready, you have to make room for them to play. I understand that. And you've got to get some prospects and rebuild your farm system year after year. This is a great baseball way to do it.”
The Brewers started the offseason with 18 arbitration-eligible players and have been working their way down the list. Renfroe was traded. Brent Suter was waived. Trevor Gott, Jandel Gustave and Luis Perdomo were non-tendered. Adrian Houser and Matt Bush signed one-year contracts.
Still, that leaves 11 players to go, including some big ones. Cot’s Baseball Contracts projects salaries north of $13 million for each of co-aces Corbin Burnes and Brandon Woodruff, and $9 million for shortstop Willy Adames. The site estimates that Rowdy Tellez, Luis Urías and Devin Williams will combine for $10 million more.
“Obviously, it sucks getting traded anytime,” Renfroe said, “but you understand it from a GM standpoint.”