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Tomase: Renfroe's future in Boston looks murky with big raise looming

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Hunter Renfroe qualified as a $3 million bargain this season. But when his salary more than doubles in arbitration, the Red Sox will face difficult questions about his future.

If there's one thing the organization learned in 2013, it's that veteran one-year wonders don't always deliver sterling encore performances. Shane Victorino, Jonny Gomes, and Stephen Drew played integral roles in that title, but a year later were either shells of themselves or shipped out at the trade deadline, because one day you catch lightning in a bottle, and the next that bottle is empty.

And so it is that Chaim Bloom must take a hard look at Renfroe, an intriguingly flawed player who within the same game could simultaneously play Gold Glove defense and empty-calorie defense; hit the ball authoritatively to all fields and futilely roll over to second; deliver in the clutch and offer zero resistance with the game on the line.

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Even at his best, Renfroe constantly feels like a player at war with his worst impulses. His cannon arm probably cost the Red Sox more runs than it saved, thanks to his bloodlust for assists. He recorded a league-leading 16 of them, but just as often airmailed a cutoff man to allow an extra base or overran a ball while thinking THROWTHROWTHROW.

Offensively, he wants to pull everything, and understandably so. He's blessed with tremendous power and he barreled balls at an elite rate. But his best stretches came when he at least nodded at the idea of staying up the middle. When he entered hero mode, like during the American League Championship Series vs. the Astros, he became the easiest out in the lineup, trying to yank everything and going 1 for 16 as a result.


Still, he blasted 31 homers while setting career highs in average (.259), on base percentage (.315), RBIs (96), and OPS. It's hard to complain about any of that, especially for 3 million bucks.

Career Highs in 2021


Arbitration changes that calculus, however. The projections at MLB Trade Rumors put Renfroe at $7.6 million this winter. That may sound like a reasonable rate for a 30-homer hitter, but 30 homers aren't what they used to be. Whereas in 1978 only 10 players reached that total, and in 1988 it had fallen to five, last season 43 players qualified, including diminutive speedsters Cedric Mullens and Ozzie Albies, Gold Glovers Tyler O'Neill and Matt Olson, and all-or-nothing sluggers Adam Duvall, Joey Gallo, and Mike Zunino. That's tied for the fourth-highest total ever, trailing only 2019 (58!?!) and 1999-2000 in the heart of the Steroid Era.

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Renfroe's WAR checked in at a middling 2.3, good for eighth on the roster, and trailing starter Nick Pivetta and one-dimensional DH J.D. Martinez, among others. He ranked 123rd among position players, and that's after a career year. What will he look like next year at age 30 for double the salary?

At this point, it's important to note that not every veteran the Red Sox signed for nothing last season is a long-term part of the future. Some were simply stopgaps, and bringing the band back because the Red Sox overachieved is a recipe for failure that Bloom seems disinclined to follow.

Whereas veteran Kiké Hernández proved himself as an everyday center fielder and postseason monster, and a case can be made for signing Kyle Schwarber long-term, Renfroe falls very squarely into the category of expendable and replaceable. He's not 25 like Alex Verdugo (who actually had a slightly worse year), and he's not versatile like Hernández. He's a solid right fielder who's a steal at $3 million and potentially just another guy at $7 million. He could easily be traded this winter to clear salary for someone else.

As the Red Sox try to build on the surprising success of 2021, some valuable contributors will inevitably be left behind. Don't be shocked if Renfroe is one of them.