ST. PETERSBURG — During a mid-day Thursday media session to preview the upcoming winter meetings, GM Erik Neander said the Rays were still primarily in the info-gathering stage about potential moves.
But by midnight, they turned that talk into action, all but finalizing a deal to send outfielder Tommy Pham and, reportedly, two-way prospect Jake Cronenworth to the Padres for power-hitting outfielder Hunter Renfroe, touted middle infield prospect Xavier Edwards and another minor-leaguer to be named.
The late-night trade, first reported by Ken Rosenthal of The Athletic and Jeff Passan of ESPN, is expected to be formally completed and announced on Friday. The identity of the prospect going to the Padres was not initially clear, but reported around 1:30 a.m. by Dennis Lin of The Athletic to be Cronenworth, who was MVP of the Rays Triple-A team playing shortstop and working as a reliever.
Pham was a key member of the 2019 Rays lineup, becoming the second player in team history with a 20-homer, 20-steal season, but was considered a potential trade candidate with his arbitration-driven 2020 salary projected at $8.6 million.
Renfroe hit 26 homers in 2017 and 2018 and then 33 last year, though his batting average dropped to .216. Renfroe, 27, played with a bone spur in the top of his right foot during the second half of the season that required October surgery, though he is expected to be ready for spring training.
Over his first 92 games through July 24, Renfroe hit .248 with 28 homers, 54 RBIs and an .886 OPS. In 48 games from then on, he hit .146 with five homers, 10 RBIs and a .541 OPS. Still, he ranked sixth in the NL and 13th in the majors with a 13.3 homers to at-bats ratio.
A 2013 first-round pick projected to make $3.4 million in his first season of arbitration eligibility, Renfroe is also a strong defensive player, ranking second in the majors with 22 defensive runs saved per fangraphs.com while playing all three positions. The Rays have four years of control of Renfroe; Pham will be a free agent in 2022.
Edwards, 20, is rated the fifth-best Padres in the rich Padres farm system per mlbpipeline.com, and is a key to the deal. The 38th overall pick in the 2018 draft has already drawn the attention of the Rays for his performance in two pro seasons, hitting .322 over his first 503 at-bats. In 2019, he .322 with a .771 OPS over two Class A levels, with one homer and 34 steals.
Reaction to the trade is sure to be mixed. Rays starter Blake Snell was playing video games via an online streaming network, and his initial displeasure was clear as he put his head in his hand then said, "We gave Pham up for Renfroe and a damn (descriptive term for someone not good at what they do) prospect?''
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Later in his streaming session Snell apologized, per Yahoo Sports, saying: “I’m not trying to belittle a minor leaguer. It’s just super-rude toward that guy. That kid didn’t deserve me calling him a (same phrase), let’s be honest ... Tommy’s the man, bro. It’s just hella stupid.”
In addition to another minor-leaguer to be named, the Rays gain some financial flexibility as their projected 2020 payroll is expected to be similar to last year, when they opened the season at about $60 million and, despite a slew of injuries, won 96 games and made the playoffs for the first time since 2013.
Of the four players the Rays have making more than $5 million, Pham was the most likely to go. The others are centerfielder Kevin Kiermaier ($10 million salary) and starters Charlie Morton ($15 million) and Blake Snell ($7 million).
Pham, 31, was acquired in August 2018 from St. Louis for three prospects, Genesis Cabrera, Roel Ramirez and Justin Williams. Last season, he hit .273 with 21 homers, 68 RBIs and an .819 OPS. He led the Rays with 155 hits, 33 doubles, 81 walks, a .369 on-base percentage and the 25 steals.
Neander may have foreshadowed a deal such as this in his Thursday comments when asked about improving the roster stocked primarily with young players.
“There’s a lot of time between now and Opening Day, and I think anticipate some twists and turns in terms of what our team will look like by the end of March when we get going,'' he said.
"As much as we like the complexion of our roster, I think in order to find paths to improvement and advance our efforts we might have to change the complexion of that some way. some shape, somehow, just because of where we sit right now. So beyond (potentially adding a catcher), we’re going to be open-minded, we’re going to try to be opportunistic. But it probably will take some creativity in terms of the way we go about doing that at this point, because there’s not a lot of clear-cut paths given the group we have.''
Contact Marc Topkin at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow @TBTimes_Rays.