Reds claim outfielders Harrison Bader and Hunter Renfroe on waivers

With a rare chance to add impact players after the trade deadline, the Reds took advantage of non-contending teams shedding payroll to bolster their roster heading into September. A litany of players were placed on non-revocable waivers earlier this week, and as a contending team with one of the lowest waiver positions, the Reds were well-positioned to come away with at least one addition. While Cincinnati missed out on a trio of pitchers who could’ve proven helpful — Lucas Giolito, Reynaldo Lopez, and Matt Moore were all claimed by the Guardians —  Nick Krall managed to claim two right-handed hitting outfielders: Harrison Bader from the Yankees and Hunter Renfroe from the Angels.

The Reds are hoping Bader and Renfroe will provide a lift to the offense, which struggled badly in August. Injuries to Jonathan India, Jake Fraley, Joey Votto, and Matt McLain didn’t help matters, but the Cincinnati bats struggled to score runs all month, ranking as the fifth-worst offense in baseball by wRC+ (80).

Let’s get to know the newest Reds.

Harrison Bader

Bader, 29, is a familiar player to Reds fans, as he spent the majority of his career in the NL Central. A third-round draft pick by St. Louis in 2015, Bader spent the first five-and-a-half years of his MLB career with the Cardinals before he was dealt to the Yankees at the 2022 trade deadline for left-handed pitcher Jordan Montgomery. Bader is no stranger to playoff races, appearing in the postseason in each of the last four seasons. He starred for the Yankees in the 2022 playoffs, smashing five home runs in the AL divisional round and championship series.

This season has been a bit of a bumpy one for Bader from a health standpoint. He’s served multiple stints on the injured list due to oblique and hamstring strains, which has limited him to 84 games with the Yankees. He’s hit .240/.278/.365 with a 76 wRC+ in 310 plate appearances, including seven home runs and 17 stolen bases.

Bader hasn’t skipped a beat defensively, though, and that’s where his biggest impact for the Reds will likely come. Since 2018, only three outfielders have more defensive runs saved than Bader (51) and nobody has him beat in outs above average (65). He won a Gold Glove award in 2021 and was a finalist in 2019. This season, he ranks in the 95th percentile in outs above average, excelling both with his jumps (89th percentile) and throwing arm (92nd).

At the plate, Bader has been a slightly below average hitter for most of his career. He’s hit .244/.312/.399 with a 93 wRC+ across 2,074 plate appearances, displaying modest power (.155 ISO) and on-base ability (7.3 BB%). After strong 2020 and 2021 seasons at the plate, Bader’s production has dipped in the last two years (78 wRC+). While he’s reduced his strikeout rate significantly, that has also come with a big decrease in power production (.117 ISO) and a dreadful walk rate (4.0 BB%).

However, Bader has at least rebounded against left-handed pitchers in 2023, batting .343/.392/.687 with a 191 wRC+, albeit in just 74 plate appearances. Fortunately, that isn’t an outlier compared to his career production — Bader has consistently performed better against lefties (career 125 wRC+) than righties (83 wRC+). For that reason, Bader will likely serve in a platoon role with the Reds, spelling TJ Friedl in center field against left-handed starting pitchers and otherwise serving as a pinch-runner or defensive replacement.

Bader is owed $783,000 for the remainder of 2023 and will be a free agent after the season.

Hunter Renfroe

Renfroe, 31, is no stranger to changing clubhouses. The Reds will be his sixth team over the last five seasons, though it’s not due to lack of production. After being drafted by the Padres in 2013, Renfroe spent the first four years of his MLB career in San Diego after debuting in 2016. Since then, he hasn’t stayed in one place for very long. He was traded to the Rays prior to the 2020 season and non-tendered that offseason. He signed with the Red Sox as a free agent before the 2021 season, was dealt to the Brewers before the 2022 season, and got sent to the Angels before the 2023 season.

Quietly, Renfroe has been among the top power hitters in baseball for the last seven years. He has 172 home runs since the 2017 season, 20th-most among all hitters in that time. That’s where the bulk of Renfroe’s value comes from, as he doesn’t walk much (career 7.5 BB%), hit for average (.240), or steal bases (14 career steals). In 126 games with the Angels this season, Renfroe hit .242/.304/.434 — roughly league-average production (98 wRC+). His 19 home runs are more than any Reds hitter. Although Renfroe can still hit the ball hard (86th percentile maximum exit velocity), his overall contact quality has declined this season. He ranked in the 78th and 70th percentiles in average exit velocity and hard-hit rate, respectively, with the Brewers last season, but has fallen to the 35th and 44th percentiles in 2023.

Defensively, Renfroe is primarily a right-fielder, logging over 5,000 career innings at the position. He was a Gold Glove finalist in 2019, but that proved to be his strongest defensive season by far. In the four seasons since then, he’s been firmly below average with -8 DRS and OAA. This year has been Renfroe’s worst as a right-fielder with -8 DRS and -3 OAA. While his range leaves a lot to be desired (18th percentile in OAA, 35th in jump), Renfroe has a powerful throwing arm (92nd percentile), which is how he can still provide value as a right-fielder. Renfroe has 125 career appearances in left field (none since 2019) and 12 in center field (none since 2021). He’s also made eight cameo appearances at first base, including five this season.

Renfroe hasn’t shown any platoon splits this season (95 wRC+ vs. lefties, 99 vs. righties), but he’s mashed left-handed pitching throughout his big-league career (131 wRC+ vs. lefties, 97 vs. righties). Given his even production, Renfroe stands a better shot of receiving everyday playing time than Bader. Additionally, Jake Fraley will be forced to DH when he’s activated from the IL on Friday, which means right field will likely belong to Renfroe on most days.

Renfroe is in his final year of arbitration and owed just under $2 million for the rest of the season. He will also be a free agent when the season concludes.

Other roster implications

To clear space on the 40-man roster for Bader and Renfroe, the Reds designated outfielder Michael Siani and infielder Alejo Lopez for assignment. Siani could very well get claimed, as he just turned 24 years old and provides excellent defense and speed. Lopez was designated for assignment in February when the Reds acquired Will Benson and added back to the roster just two days ago. Since this is his second time being designated for assignment, Lopez will have control of his own fate if he passes through waivers. He could refuse an outright assignment to the minor leagues and would then become a free agent.

Those moves cleared only one spot on the active roster, however. With the Reds adding two right-handed outfielders, TJ Hopkins seems like a safe bet to get optioned to Triple-A.

Beyond Renfroe and Bader, the Reds will get two additional players on Friday as rosters expand in September. One will be Fraley, who’s expected to be activated from the IL and play through a stress fracture in his toe. Fraley hasn’t played since August 3, and his bat will be a welcome addition to the lineup if he can manage to stay productive through the injury. The 27-year-old has a 114 wRC+ in 327 plate appearances this season.

The other addition has to be a pitcher, most likely Tejay Antone, whose rehab time will soon expire. Antone hasn’t pitched in the big leagues since 2021 after undergoing his second Tommy John surgery. He was originally expected to return at the beginning of this season, but a strained elbow flexor has held him out until now. Antone has been on a rehab assignment since late July, pitching in 14 games between the Arizona Complex League and Triple-A. It’s probably too optimistic to expect Antone to recapture his old form — notably, his fastball has been sitting around 92-93 mph with Louisville, well down from his 2020 and 2021 averages. But at the very least, Antone could provide a lift for a bullpen that has been heavily worked all season.

Featured photo by Brian Rothmuller/Icon Sportswire

Matt Wilkes

Matt Wilkes got hooked on Reds baseball after attending his first game in Cinergy Field at 6 years old, and he hasn’t looked back. As a kid, he was often found imitating his favorite players — Ken Griffey Jr., Adam Dunn, Sean Casey, and Austin Kearns — in the backyard. When he finally went inside, he was leading the Reds to 162-0 seasons in MVP Baseball 2005 or keeping stats for whatever game was on TV. He started writing about baseball in 2014 and has become fascinated by analytics and all the new data in the game. Matt is also a graduate of The Ohio State University and currently lives in Chicago. Follow him on Twitter at @_MattWilkes.