The Brewers will need some help filling out their roster and a new free agent option just popped up.
After the Tampa Bay Rays designated Hunter Renfroe for assignment, making him a free agent, many were already trying to connect the dots to bring him to the Milwaukee Brewers.
In some ways, Renfroe would make for a great addition to the Brewers offense, but he’s also not a perfect fit either.
The case for Hunter Renfroe to join the Brewers
Renfroe was slated to reach arbitration for the first time this winter. Projections had him earning around $4MM in 2021. Since he won’t be going through the arbitration process, it’s likely he’s going to end up signing for less money than that.
What do the Brewers need? They need power bats to fill corner spots.
Hunter Renfroe is a power bat that can fill a corner spot.
He hit eight homers in 139 PAs in 2020, he hit 33 homers in 2019, 26 homers in 2018, and 26 homers in 2017.
Over the past four years, Renfroe’s walk rate has steadily increased, from 5.6% in 2017 to 6.8% in 2018, up to 9.3% in 2019, and then 10.1% in 2020.
Renfroe hits the ball hard, as evidenced by his 89.7 MPH average exit velocity over the last three seasons combined and his career 41.7% hard hit rate.
While his offensive numbers in general were down in 2020, part of that can be on the weirdness of 2020 that impacted numerous hitters across the league. Another part of it can be explained by his extremely low batting average on balls in play (BABIP).
Renfroe had an abysmal .141 BABIP in 2020, leading to his career low .156 batting average on the season. Although Renfroe has typically had lower BABIPs (.254 career) than the normal across the league, this year’s BABIP was over 100 points lower than his career average.
It stands to reason that Renfroe is going to be better with a full, normal season in 2021 and that will allow his power to play up even more.
The case against Hunter Renfroe joining the Brewers
Even with an improved BABIP in 2021 and a likely improved batting average, Renfroe still doesn’t have the greatest hit tool. In his best season so far, Renfroe hit .248, which was back in 2018. At best, he’d probably hit 30 homers but would have a sub-.250 average.
That sounds a lot like Eric Thames, and the two are somewhat similar hitters, except Renfroe walks less and has a lower BABIP.
One other issue with Renfroe joining the Brewers is figuring out where to play him. Renfroe came up as an outfielder, has been an outfielder pretty much his whole career, and posted a +23 DRS as an outfielder for the Padres in 2019.
However, the Brewers currently have $41.75MM tied up in Christian Yelich, Lorenzo Cain, and Avisail Garcia to man their outfield in 2021. There isn’t a starting spot for Renfroe out there. So where would he play?
Renfroe played a grand total of nine innings at first base in 2020, and everything went well in that extremely small sample size, but it’s difficult to make any actual conclusions based on that sample. If Renfroe can handle first base defensively, then he could make for a strong pickup.
He has the bat necessary to play first base and he would fill a need for the Brewers if he can play that position. Current Brewers first baseman Daniel Vogelbach also has some defensive question marks about whether or not he can handle the position. They could make for a decent offensive platoon combination, but the Brewers infield defense might suffer.
The entire idea of bringing Hunter Renfroe to Milwaukee is predicated on the plan of playing him at first base, a position in which he only has nine innings of experience playing at the big league level.
Offensively, Renfroe might be a good fit, but he’s not coming to Milwaukee unless the Brewers are sure that he can handle playing first base on a nearly full time basis. Plus, given his strong reputation as a good defensive outfielder, he may not want to become a first baseman only just yet.
While the idea of bringing Renfroe in is very intriguing, it’s far from a perfect fit.