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Why the Franmil Reyes trade represents a huge gamble on Hunter Renfroe

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Is 2019 Renfroe the real Renfroe? For A.J. Preller’s sake, he’d better be

MLB: San Francisco Giants at San Diego Padres Jake Roth-USA TODAY Sports

Hey, y’all! Before I get into this article, I just wanted to introduce myself. My name is Brady Lim and starting right now, I’ll be covering our beloved Padres for Gaslamp Ball. Although the season may not be going as we had hoped, it’s still undoubtedly a fantastic time to be a Padre fan, and I’m excited to be right alongside y’all as the team starts contending for championships. Whether you love my articles and want to tell me how great I am or hate my articles and want to tell me how reading my work is ruining your life, let me know either way in the comments! I want to hear all of it. If you really want to give me a piece of your mind in a less professional manner, I’d suggest following me on Twitter @BradyLim619. Anyway, enough with the pleasantries. Let’s get into it.

The anticipation of the trade deadline was something that consumed most Padres fans’ minds for the better part of a month. Will they be buyers? Will they be sellers? Who could they get? Who could be on the move? It all seemed exciting; an opportunity to further the years-long rebuild authored by A.J. Preller and truly move towards being legitimate contenders. And then they traded Franmil Reyes, which to put it lightly, sucked. Say what you want about the trade itself, and I’ll get into that in depth later, but the simple fact that Franmil Reyes would no longer be dancing and singing in the Petco Park dugout every day made me legitimately sad. Major League Baseball trades probably shouldn’t make me sad, but this one got me.

Anyway, the Padres came out on the other side of the deadline without Reyes, but with outfield prospect Taylor Trammell (MLB Pipeline ETA of 2020) and a suddenly significant amount of weight placed on the shoulders of Hunter Renfroe.

It was said throughout the industry that part of the thought process in trading Reyes was that his skill set was too similar to Renfroe’s; their redundancy made one of them expendable, and Reyes, the inferior defender, was shipped out. That’s fine, if you’re confident in Renfroe’s ability to slug .550 and post an OPS around .850 consistently. Here’s why that might be too big of a bet to place…

Let’s start easy. He’s never done that in his career up to this point, and he’s already 27 years old:

2017: 479 PA - 26 HR - .231 BA - .284 OBP - .467 SLG - .751 OPS

2018: 441 PA - 26 HR - .248 BA - .302 OBP - .504 SLG - .805 OPS

Major career-path redirections at age 27 aren’t unheard of in the major leagues, but they’re not common. Nine times out of 10, who you are after 1,000 plate appearances is most likely who you are for the rest of your career, give or take some normal variance. It’s reasonable (and a bit scary) to think that Renfroe circa-2019-All-Star-break is absolute peak Renfroe. And if that’s the case, what you just did was choose a 27-year-old peak Renfroe over a 24-year-old Reyes, who carries a more promising offensive outlook with undoubtedly more room to grow. You can get away with this if Renfroe proves to be much more 2019 Renfroe than 2017 Renfroe moving forward, but if that’s not the case, this whole thing falls apart rather quickly in the corner outfield.

Also, Renfroe has this tendency to go through ridiculous hot stretches and horrible cold spells, more so than your typical ebbs and flows of the major-league hitting experience. Remember when he came up at the end of 2016 and slugged .800? What about in mid-2018, when he went 3-for-29 over a two-week stretch, then immediately turned around and homered in four straight games, each of the multi-hit variety? Renfroe does this. He always has. To assume some sort of linear progression would be irresponsible, and Renfroe’s value right now is as high as it’s ever been as a major-league player. And even then, he’s still rocking a sub-.300 OBP with a ton of strikeouts. So what you’re really banking on is 40-50 home runs per year, and any improved approach at the plate is just a bonus. That’s a lot of pressure to put on a player by making a trade that isn’t going to improve your postseason chances for at least the next two years.

The argument for alleviating the “redundancy” of the two corner outfield sluggers is fair. But the counter to that would be that having guys with similar skill sets would theoretically serve as insurance for each other if one falters. Now, that’s gone. If Renfroe reverts to his old self (who wasn’t even an everyday regular), Myers continues to struggle on an untradeable contract and Cordero remains parked on the injured list, what’s the plan in the corners? A position pairing with depth and guaranteed offensive firepower suddenly becomes dangerously thin, and with the dream of contending in 2020 presumably still alive, “thin” isn’t a word typically used to describe those sorts of ballclubs.

As for what they lose in Reyes? Well, they lose 40 home runs per year. That’s almost a given. But they also lose the absolute heart of the clubhouse, and coming from a front office that gave Eric Hosmer $144M in large part due to his clubhouse presence, there doesn’t seem to be much consistency in roster-construction philosophy there. If, as a front office, you decide to punt clubhouse continuity altogether and just go for talent over everything, then fine. But that’s not what this front office has done, ever. There seems to be a disconnect in exactly what the plan is in that regard.

Now, they did get MLB Pipeline’s 30th-rated prospect overall in outfielder Taylor Trammell. Despite a relatively down year in Double-A this year (.236/.349/.336, 8 HR, 17 SB), he’s still a fantastic prospect with a ton of upside. High-OBP outfielders with speed and athleticism will always have high floors, and if he can build upon his doubles power and start poking some of those balls over the fence, he could very well become a star. But he doesn’t project to be in San Diego until at least midway through next year, and expecting some Tatis Jr.-esque start out of the gates isn’t realistic. Breaking in prospects while simultaneously winning division titles happens all the time - the Dodgers have seemingly done it every season since, like, forever - but it’s not something you can depend on. If it works out and Trammell hits the ground running, great. If not, you need a viable backup plan, and with Reyes now in Cleveland, there doesn’t seem to be one on the horizon. Beyond that, will Margot’s recent spike in OBP and power stick? If not, there’s a problem. Will Naylor ever be more than a worse-hitting Reyes with equally bad defensive output? If not, there’s a problem. This trade creates so many new contingencies, and that doesn’t sell me on the 2020-postseason vision super well.

There’s one glaring aspect of this deal that I haven’t touched on yet, and it’s pretty important. So if you’re looking for a reason to like the trade, these next few paragraphs are for you. I’m talking, of course, about defense. Reyes is a DH. I love the guy, but it took me all of about three innings of watching him lumber around out there to realize that. Renfroe, earlier in his career, was approaching that territory as well. But something changed this year in that regard. He’s transformed his defensive profile from “defensive liability with a loose cannon of an arm” to “real asset in the field with a great first step, much-improved reads and an arm that can actually hose people now.” His MLB-outfielder-leading (!) 19 Defensive Runs Saved this season can vouch for that.

I’m almost positive that the defense factor is ultimately where the decision was made to part with Reyes over Renfroe. In the age of the fly ball, it’s more important than ever to have competent defensive outfielders, and Renfroe is certainly that. The other thing is this: defensive production is far more consistent year-to-year than offensive output. Not taking into account the age factor that creeps up somewhere north of 30, if you’re a good defender, you’re a good defender. There’s not much variance there, and Renfroe seems to have turned the corner in that department.

I essentially say all of that to say this: choosing Renfroe over Reyes was not necessarily the wrong decision. In fact, if you absolutely had to choose one, it’s definitely the right decision. The point I’m trying to make here is that choosing to trade either of them is an enormous gamble that quite honestly didn’t need to be made at this point. If the plan was eventually to replace Reyes with a more fleet-footed right fielder, why not wait until next year’s trade deadline? The desperate need for a top-of-the-rotation arm remains, and the Padres aren’t making the postseason this year regardless, so why trade Reyes now for an outfield prospect who won’t be ready to contribute significantly until 2021? Big power bats are in high demand at the deadline every year, and nowhere in Reyes’ two-year career has he shown the potential for a precipitous fall at the plate.

All of this uncertainty falls squarely on Hunter Renfroe. If Preller isn’t right about him - that he can post an OPS of .850 year in and year out - this can go south real quick. And if he doesn’t hit on Trammell, this could end up being one of the more defining trades of his general managerial career.