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Hefty salary, .156 batting average mean the end for Hunter Renfroe in Tampa Bay

Rays OF Hunter Renfroe was designated for assignment one year after being acquired from the Padres in a trade that included Tommy Pham.
Tampa Bay Rays rightfielder Hunter Renfroe makes a diving catch on a ball hit by Houston Astros centerfielder George Springer during the seventh inning of the American League Championship Series Game 3 against the Houston Astros on Oct. 13 at Petco Park in San Diego.
Tampa Bay Rays rightfielder Hunter Renfroe makes a diving catch on a ball hit by Houston Astros centerfielder George Springer during the seventh inning of the American League Championship Series Game 3 against the Houston Astros on Oct. 13 at Petco Park in San Diego. [ DENIS POROY | Special to the Times ]
Published Nov. 21, 2020

ST. PETERSBURG — Hunter Renfroe’s first season with the Rays was not terribly productive, and so his departure Friday was not terribly surprising. Renfroe, along with Brian O’Grady, were victims of Tampa Bay’s logjam in the outfield as the team designated them for assignment to make room on the 40-man roster for minor-league prospects.

Outfielder Josh Lowe, infielder Taylor Walls and right-handed pitcher Drew Strotman were added to the 40-man roster to protect them from the upcoming Rule 5 Draft. The Rays went into the day with one available opening on the roster.

Renfroe, 28, eventually could go down as one of the more disappointing trades in recent Tampa Bay history. The Rays dealt Tommy Pham and minor-leaguer Jake Cronenworth to the Padres 11 months ago for Renfroe and highly-rated prospect Xavier Edwards.

Cronenworth went on to finish second in the National League Rookie of the Year voting while Renfroe hit a career-low .156 with eight homers in 122 at-bats. Renfroe was also one of only a half-dozen Rays players to make more than $1 million after salaries were adjusted for the shortened season during the pandemic. Because he is arbitration-eligible, Renfroe would have been in line for a salary somewhere north of $3.5 million in 2021, which made a trade unlikely.

“We’re going to have a lot of outfielders next year and there’s only so much playing time to go around,” said Peter Bendix, Tampa Bay’s vice president of player development. “At this point we weren’t able to commit to (Renfroe) and we figured it best for everybody involved to get into the free-agent market at this point.”

Lowe and Walls both were widely expected to be added to the roster, which keeps them from being exposed to other organizations in next month’s Rule 5 draft. Lowe, the younger brother of first baseman Nate Lowe, was a first-round pick in 2016 and part of Tampa Bay’s 60-man player pool during the 2020 season. Walls, a third-round pick out of Florida State, was also part of the 60-man pool.

Strotman, who missed parts of two seasons with Tommy John surgery and has never pitched above Class A, was more of a longshot for the Rule 5 draft. With no minor-league season in 2020, it would have been dicey for another organization to take him, but the Rays weren’t risking it after he had a strong instructional league.

“In a normal year obviously if a guy is pitching in games, you know that all of the other teams are getting the same information as you,” Bendix said. “This year, we probably had more information on him just because of how 2020 worked out but other teams still had information on him. Scouts were allowed to go to instructional league games and data was being shared.”

In other news, former Rays minor-leaguer Sam McWilliams signed a major-league deal with the Mets for a reported $750,000. That’s an unusually high salary for a player who has yet to pitch in the majors, but McWilliams throws a fastball in the 99-mph range. He was part of the Rays’ 60-man player pool, but was reassigned to the minors after the season. With more than six years in the minors, McWilliams had the option to choose free agency.

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John Romano can be reached at jromano@tampabay.com. Follow @romano_tbtimes.