The Angels’ early-offseason aggressiveness continues. The Halos announced the acquisition of outfielder Hunter Renfroe from the Brewers on Tuesday night. Pitchers Janson Junk, Elvis Peguero and Adam Seminaris head to Milwaukee in return.
It’s the third early strike of the offseason for the Halos, who’ve already signed starter Tyler Anderson to a three-year free agent deal and acquired infielder Gio Urshela in a trade with the Twins. Now, they take a step towards fixing an outfield that had a major question mark alongside Mike Trout and Taylor Ward.
Renfroe should solidify the corner outfield spot opposite Ward. He’s been an above-average hitter in each of the past two seasons, with strikingly similar production for the Red Sox in 2021 and Brewers this year. The former first-rounder has combined for 60 home runs over the last two seasons, following up a 31-homer showing with the Sox with 29 more in Milwaukee. He had an identical .315 on-base percentage in each year but more than offset that modest number with big power production.
The right-handed hitter has hit between .255 and .260 in each of the last two years while slugging around .500 both seasons. He has a cumulative .257/.315/.496 line in just under 1100 plate appearances going back to the start of 2021. His 22.9% strikeout rate is right around average, while he’s walked at a slightly below-average 7.6% clip. He’s a lower-OBP slugger who has particularly decimated left-handed opposition. Renfroe carries a .269/.357/.508 line over that stretch while holding the platoon advantage. He’s had starker on-base concerns but hit for enough power to remain a decent option against right-handed pitching (.252/.292/.491).
That power production is Renfroe’s calling card, but he’s also a viable defender. Defensive Runs Saved has pegged him right around league average in right field in each of the last three seasons. Statcast’s range-based metric has Renfroe a few runs below average annually, but he compensates for his fringy athleticism with top-tier arm strength. He’s picked up double-digit assists in each of the last two years, and he leads all MLB outfielders with 27 baserunners cut down in that time.
Renfroe’s excellent arm strength has kept him primarily in right field over the past few years, although he did log a number of innings in left earlier in his career. If he steps into right field at Angel Stadium, that’d push Ward over to left field. Former top prospect Jo Adell now looks as if he’ll be relegated to fourth outfield/bench duty after beginning his career with a .215/.259/.356 showing in roughly one full season’s worth of games. Adell is still just 23 years old and coming off a solid year in Triple-A Salt Lake, but the Angels don’t appear prepared to count on him for a regular role as they look to vault their way into the playoff picture in 2023.
As with last week’s Urshela trade, the Renfroe acquisition is about deepening the lineup with a productive but not elite veteran for a season. Renfroe turns 31 in January and is in his final season of club control. He’s projected by MLBTR contributor Matt Swartz for an $11.2MM salary, and he’ll be a free agent at the end of the year. That’s a reasonable sum for a player of this caliber, but one moderately expensive season of arbitration control over a lower-OBP corner slugger isn’t teeming with trade value. Renfroe is the second player of that ilk dealt in as many weeks.
The Blue Jays sent Teoscar Hernández to the Mariners for reliever Erik Swanson and pitching prospect Adam Macko. That trade came as a surprise to a number of Toronto fans, but each of Swanson and Macko are arguably more appealing players than any of the trio of pitchers Milwaukee received in this swap. Hernández is a better hitter than Renfroe is, but the gap between the former’s .282/.332/.508 line over the past two seasons and the latter’s production isn’t all that dramatic. Nevertheless, Renfroe has had a hard time sticking in any one spot as his price tag has escalated throughout his arbitration seasons. The Halos will be his fifth team in as many years, as he’s successively played for the Padres, Rays, Red Sox and Brewers going back to 2019.
Adding his projected arbitration salary pushes the Halos’ estimated 2023 payroll up to around $192MM, per Roster Resource. That’d be the highest mark in franchise history, narrowly topping their approximate $189MM figure from this past season. They’re up to roughly $206MM in luxury tax commitments, around $27MM shy of the $233MM base threshold. The franchise’s spending capacity this winter has been in question with owner Arte Moreno exploring a sale of the franchise. There’s still no indication the club is willing to approach luxury tax territory, but the acquisitions of Anderson, Urshela and Renfroe have tacked on an estimated $31.9MM in 2023 spending. The latter two players represent one-year investments, but it seems Moreno is affording general manager Perry Minasian and his group some leeway to add to the roster in advance of the club’s final season of control over defending AL MVP runner-up Shohei Ohtani.
The Brewers add a trio of pitchers, two of whom already have big league experience. Junk is a former 22nd-round pick of the Yankees. He went to the Halos in the 2021 deadline deal that sent southpaw Andrew Heaney to the Bronx. The right-hander has pitched in seven MLB games over the past two seasons, starting six. He’s allowed a 4.74 ERA through 24 2/3 innings, striking out a below-average 19.4% of opponents but posting a sterling 4.4% walk rate.
Junk, 27 in January, leans primarily on a low-80s slider which prospect evaluators suggest could be an above-average pitch. He has decent spin on his 92-93 MPH four-seam but hasn’t cemented himself on a big league staff to this point. He spent most of this year on optional assignment to Salt Lake, where he posted a 4.64 ERA through 73 2/3 innings as a starter in a hitter-friendly environment. His 22.1% strikeout percentage was a touch below average, but he only walked 5.8% of opponents. The Seattle University product still has a pair of minor league option years remaining and can bounce between Milwaukee and Triple-A Nashville as rotation or middle relief depth.
Peguero, on the other hand, is a pure reliever. The righty debuted with three appearances as a COVID replacement late in the 2021 season. He earned a permanent 40-man roster spot last offseason and appeared in 13 games this year. Tasked with low-leverage innings, Peguero put up a 7.27 ERA across 17 1/3 innings. He only struck out 15.6% of opponents but got swinging strikes on a more impressive 12% of his total pitches. The Dominican Republic native induced grounders on roughly half the batted balls he surrendered in the majors.
He also had an excellent year in Salt Lake, where he tossed 44 1/3 frames of 2.84 ERA ball. Peguero fanned 27.5% of batters faced against a quality 7.1% walk rate and racked up grounders at a huge 57.5% clip. Like Junk, Peguero leaned primarily on a slider during his MLB look, although he throws much harder. Peguero’s slider checked in at 91 MPH on average while his fastball sat just north of 96. He turns 26 in March and also has two options remaining, so the Brewers can deploy him as an up-and-down middle reliever while hoping he can translate his Triple-A success against big league opponents.
Seminaris went in the fifth round in the 2020 draft out of Long Beach State. A 6’0″ southpaw, he wasn’t ranked among the top 30 prospects in the Anaheim system at Baseball America. He traversed three minor league levels this year, showing well at High-A against younger competition but struggling as he climbed the minor league ladder. Altogether, he worked 101 2/3 frames of 3.54 ERA ball with a 22.1% strikeout rate and an 8.7% walk percentage. He’s not on the 40-man roster but will have to be added by the end of the 2023 season or be exposed in the Rule 5 draft.
While Milwaukee clearly likes all three mid-20’s hurlers, they’re each flexible depth options. Surely, a key motivator in the deal was reallocating Renfroe’s hefty arbitration projection. Slashing payroll wasn’t the sole impetus for the trade — the Brewers could’ve simply non-tendered Renfroe last week if they were committed to getting his money off the books — but GM Matt Arnold and his staff elected to clear some payroll room while bringing in a few depth arms of note.
The Brewers are projected for a salary around $115MM at Roster Resource thanks largely to an arbitration class that still includes Corbin Burnes, Brandon Woodruff and Willy Adames, among others. That’s about $17MM shy of this year’s Opening Day mark, and more roster shuffling figures to be on the horizon. Dealing a complementary player like Renfroe doesn’t suggest the Brewers are about to flip any of Burnes, Woodruff or Adames, but Milwaukee could consider moving second baseman Kolten Wong or a depth starter like Adrian Houser or Eric Lauer. They’ve already drawn some interest from the Mariners on Wong and are sure to contemplate a number of ways to try to balance the present and the future.
Milwaukee could now dip into the lower tiers of the free agent corner outfield market to backfill for Renfroe’s absence, with Tyrone Taylor standing as the current favorite for playing time alongside Christian Yelich and Garrett Mitchell in the outfield. Highly-touted young players like Sal Frelick and Joey Wiemer could play their way into the mix midseason, but it’d be a surprise if the Brewers didn’t add at least one veteran outfielder before Opening Day.
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