Finding the next Renfroe? Expect Sox to pounce on non-tendered free agents

Dec. 1—It’s hard not to feel a sense of FOMO … the fear of missing out.

Over the past few days we’ve seen clubs across baseball spend like drunken sailors before the expected lockout freezes the market in its tracks. The Texas Rangers dropped half a billion dollars on a trio of big free agents, the New York Mets agreed to pay Max Scherzer an average of $43 million per year, and American League contenders like Toronto and Seattle have made big moves to fortify their playoff hopes in 2022.

And the Red Sox? So far all they’ve done is sign borderline rotation candidate Michael Wacha for $8 million.

Why so quiet?

For fans, watching other teams have all the fun can be frustrating, but it’s important to remember that the offseason is a marathon, not a sprint. Last year the Red Sox only made what appeared to be a handful of minor moves — primarily signing Kiké Hernández and Hunter Renfroe — and those didn’t come until well after Thanksgiving but proved to be pivotal steps towards the team’s eventual turnaround.

And Renfroe is a perfect example of the approach Boston could take next.

Tuesday night was MLB’s non-tender deadline, or the date on which all arbitration-eligible players must be offered a contract. Those who aren’t are “non-tendered” and become free agents available for anyone to sign, usually on relatively cheap deals.

Renfroe, for instance, was non-tendered by the Tampa Bay Rays, who cut him loose after a disappointing 2020 season. The Red Sox took a flier on the outfielder, betting that his struggles had more to do with the weird 60-game schedule than any fundamental flaws, and signed him for $3.1 million.

What happened next? Renfroe went right back to being the power-hitting outfielder he’d been prior to the pandemic and hit 31 home runs for the Red Sox.

It may not be as exciting as inking a premier free agent to a $300 million contract, but diamonds in the rough like that can be just as impactful.

Who could be an option this year? One possibility is Lewis Brinson, a former first round pick who was just non-tendered by the Marlins. The 27-year-old outfielder has not fulfilled his potential, but the Red Sox could give him a shot and at the very least count on some valuable outfield depth.

Another longer-term play is Matthew Boyd, a 30-year-old lefty starter who posted a 3.89 ERA in 78.2 innings last season before undergoing season-ending flexor tendon surgery. Boyd, who was non-tendered by Detroit, will miss significant time in 2022 but could be an intriguing addition for the home stretch.

Perhaps the most tantalizing? Relief pitcher Richard Rodriguez, who was non-tendered by the Atlanta Braves despite posting a 2.94 ERA in 64.1 innings. His strikeout numbers plummeted down the stretch and didn’t make the Braves playoff roster, but he could at least be worth a look.

Those are just a handful of the dozens of names who just hit the free agent market, and for the first time Chaim Bloom will have a complete picture of exactly who is out there.

It may not be as fun as fantasizing about Carlos Correa, but as we learned this past offseason, even the little moves can make a big difference.

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Twitter: @MacCerullo.