The Red Sox capped a buzzer-beating rush toward an MLB ownership lockout of the players with a flurry of transactions before midnight on Wednesday. The team officially announced the signings of lefthanded starters Rich Hill and James Paxton before announcing an out-of-left-field — or, perhaps more accurately, out-of-right-and-center-field — trade that shipped Hunter Renfroe to the Brewers for Jackie Bradley Jr. and a pair of prospects.
“This [trade] was one that a few days ago I would not have thought would have been on our radar,” said Chaim Bloom, the chief baseball officer of the Red Sox, on the Bradley acquisition. “True center fielders are hard to find, and we now feel that we have two of the best.”
Bradley, who signed a two-year, $24 million deal with Milwaukee prior to the start of the 2021 season, is coming off a career-worst year for the Brewers. He hit .163/.236/.261 with six homers in 134 games for Milwaukee last year, well off the .239/.321/.412 marks he posted in parts of eight big league seasons with the Red Sox during which he played Gold Glove-caliber defense.
The Sox are optimistic that Bradley, when paired with Kiké Hernández, can upgrade their defense while also bouncing back in a return to a familiar setting.
The Sox also landed two prospects in the deal, adding corner infielder Alex Binelas and middle infielder David Hamilton. Binelas was a third-round pick by the Brewers out of Louisville this year, a lefthanded hitter with what Bloom described as “special power.” Hamilton, a 2017 eighth-rounder who plays middle infield and features speed and athleticism as an up-the-middle contributor.
“Having two premium defensive center fielders is a huge boost to our roster and we’re also excited about the minor league players that we got,” said Bloom. “We felt this was something that made sense for us right now and also has a chance to pay dividends down the road.”
The team also announced the signings of lefties Rich Hill and James Paxton, the latter of whom is recovering from Tommy John surgery and not expected to contribute until the second half.
Hill, according to a major league source, will receive a $5 million base salary with innings-based bonuses that could push the value of the deal to $8 million. He’ll receive $250,000 for reaching 110 and 120 innings; an additional $500,000 for reaching 130 and 140 innings; and $750,000 for reaching 150 and 160 innings.
The 41-year-old made 31 starts and logged 158 2/3 innings for the Rays and Mets last season, his largest workload since 2007. He went 7-8 with a 3.86 ERA with a 22.7 percent strikeout rate and 8.7 percent walk rate, continuing a mid-career rebirth as a starter that he commenced with the Red Sox in 2015, shortly after the team signed him out of the independent Atlantic League.
This marks the seventh time that Hill has reached a free agent agreement to sign with the Red Sox. Last month, he made clear that as he prepared for an 18th big league season, the opportunity to return to the Sox – and to continue his career while living at home in Milton – had considerable appeal.
“[The Red Sox] do things right. I’ve been around 14 organizations. … If I tell you that they’re in the upper echelon [of franchises], they’re doing pretty good,” said Hill. “There is an interest [in the Red Sox], without a doubt. … There’s a need on the other end. [But] the need for starting pitching is very apparent throughout the league – not just in Boston. It’s also many other clubs that that need it.”
Paxton joins the Sox on a complicated one-year, $6 million deal that includes a two-year, $26 million team option with performance bonuses and escalators that could increase the total value of the deal to $35 million over three years. If the Sox decline the option, Paxton will have a $4 million player option for the 2023 season. The deal is calculated as having an average annual value of $5.8 million for 2022.
Paxton has pitched just over 20 innings since the start of 2020, and he underwent Tommy John surgery in April. But prior to those injury-riddled seasons, the 33-year-old had emerged as a solid mid-rotation starter, forging a 38-17 record and 3.54 ERA with a 30.1 percent strikeout rate while averaging 27 starts and 149 innings with the Mariners and Yankees from 2017-19. He was one of the harder-throwing starting lefties in the American League, sitting at 95-96 m.p.h. with a cutter and curveball that made him a very uncomfortable at-bat for both righties and lefties.
“He’s not going to be ready for Opening Day, but we do expect to see him sometime in the second half of the season. If all goes well, we’re hopeful that when he does come back, he’s going to be able to give us a lift,” said Bloom. “Before injuries really started to impact his career, he was one of the better lefthanded pitchers in American League.”
Since free agent lefthander Eduardo Rodriguez departed at the end of the year on a five-year, $77 million deal ($15.4 million average annual value) with the Tigers, the Sox have added righthander Michael Wacha (one year, $7 million) and lefties Paxton and Hill for a total of $17.8 million to build depth.
Bloom said that the Sox are still in the market to add bullpen help as well as a position player. The loss of Renfroe – who hit .259/.315/.501 with 31 homers and 96 RBI – left what Bloom described as a “hole” that might leave the team in the market for a righthanded bat.
But it will be some time before the Sox can consider ways to address that new need. The moves became official just before MLB owners locked out players at midnight, putting a halt on all official transactions.