'Made for Fenway': OF Renfroe joins Red Sox

December 14th, 2020

The Red Sox added some thump, defense and depth to their outfield on Monday, signing free agent to a one-year, $3.1 million contract.

Renfroe, who belted 33 homers for the Padres in 2019 before struggling in his one season with the Rays, became available on the open market when Tampa Bay designated him for assignment on Nov. 20.

The signing comes 10 years after the Red Sox selected the promising high school player from Mississippi in the 31st round of the Draft. He instead went on to Mississippi State, where he set himself up to be a first-round pick of the Padres in 2013.

“I’m very excited to be part of the Boston Red Sox. Obviously they were the first ones to take a shot at me in high school. They drafted me in high school in 2010. I’m pretty excited to get back and to sign with them, that’s pretty exciting,” Renfroe said. “I’m probably going to text [area scout] Danny Watkins after this and say it took 10 years for me to sign with the Red Sox but I finally did it. It’s pretty cool.”

The acquisition of Renfroe was Boston’s first of this Hot Stove season.

“He’s a very well-rounded player,” said Red Sox chief baseball officer Chaim Bloom. “The power is obvious and that’s been kind of his main calling card throughout his career. But he’s more than a one-trick pony. He’s an athlete. He’s a really good defensive outfielder so he should be able to contribute on both sides of the ball. His offensive game is really made for Fenway Park.”

The Red Sox will have the right-handed-hitting Renfroe under club control for the next three seasons.

“It certainly adds upside and that was important to us,” said Bloom. “As I mentioned, as much as we possibly can, we want to make sure that the things that we do to compete right now have a chance to help us down the road as well. This one certainly does.

“Hunter has shown in the past what he’s capable of and we think playing in our park is just going to enhance that. It’s going to allow him to show off his full range of abilities on both sides of the ball. There’s upside there that if this works out as we’re hoping, he can be part of this thing going forward.”

The current Boston outfield has two left-handed hitters in Alex Verdugo and Andrew Benintendi, making Renfroe a strong complementary piece. The Sox also might bring back free agent Jackie Bradley Jr., another left-handed hitter.

With the outfield as currently constituted, Verdugo would likely start in center, with Benintendi in left and Renfroe in right.

“I think we still have room to add,” said Bloom. “I always talk about depth and it’s so important. But I do think we still have room to add without straining our roster. The good thing is we have a number of outfielders who are all good enough athletes to play center field but we also still have room to augment that with a center fielder or a corner outfielder. So we have options and different paths we can take, but it would be nice to be able to continue to increase our depth as we go forward.”

If the 28-year-old can regain the power stroke he had for the Padres from 2017-19, belting 25-plus homers in three straight seasons, Renfroe could emerge into an important weapon for the Red Sox, especially against left-handed pitching. It stands to reason that Fenway Park -- with that inviting Green Monster a 310-foot poke away in left field -- could be an excellent fit for Renfroe.

“Obviously the Green Monster is real. That field is unprecedented … short, 310 to left field and a giant wall out there,” Renfroe said. “Obviously just the memories in history that people have at that field is just incredible, and just to be part of it, that is just like a little kid’s dream. I really look forward to being out there. I had a great series there this year and hope to build off that.”

He certainly looked comfortable on Aug. 13, 2020, when he clubbed two homers for the Rays in a 17-8 romp over the Red Sox.

“Obviously, talent is talent, but he should be able to mishit balls over the Green Monster,” said Bloom. “We saw it this summer. He was playing in a different uniform, but he came in here and peppered the Mass Pike and also hit balls into the bullpen. He’s got true power to be able to hit balls the other way out of here as a right-hander, and certainly more than enough power to hit and mishit balls over the left-field wall.”

Renfroe is primarily a corner outfielder who has logged the most time in right field (243 career starts). In 2019, he was a finalist for the National League Gold Glove and had 13 assists that tied Bryce Harper for the league lead.

In 42 games with the Rays last season, Renfroe had a disappointing line of .156/.252/.393 with eight homers and 22 RBIs. But he had an .806 OPS against lefties, including five home runs.

In 495 career plate appearances against lefties, Renfroe has 36 homers and a .912 OPS.

“As far as last year, and what happened last year, it was an unprecedented season that’s never been seen before in history. It was tough for everybody,” Renfroe said. “People, players, coaches, family members, everybody, and I think not necessarily getting the amount of at-bats that everybody is used to and things like that -- it was kind of an overwhelming experience for everybody.”

Despite his personal struggles, Renfroe mentioned how much he enjoyed playing for a team that came within two wins of winning the World Series. He hit a homer in Tampa Bay’s wild victory in Game 4 against the Dodgers that evened the Fall Classic at 2-2.

Renfroe looks forward to carving out a significant role for himself with the Red Sox, one that will hopefully involve big games in October.

“Obviously I know the way I play. I know what I’m capable of,” Renfroe said. “Last year was not a very good year for me to have, but I know what I’m capable of. I know the Red Sox and Chaim, I know what he’s capable of. That’s a huge thing for me to know that they have that kind of vision for me. I look forward to proving a lot of people wrong.”