The Rays usually end up on the winning side of the trades they make but the San Diego Padres look like big winners for acquiring infielder Jake Cronenworth.
It was the trade heard all across Twitch. The Tampa Bay Rays and San Diego Padres struck a trade, to the ire of Blake Snell, that sent Tommy Pham and Jake Cronenworth out west and Hunter Renfroe, Xavier Edwards, and a PTBNL going to Tampa.
So far, the trade has been an absolute heist for AJ Preller. Renfroe has struggled to a 63 wRC+ and -0.4 fWAR. Xavier Edwards will take years to evaluate but Preller needed a winning season and was happy to deal from the farm or else he was likely going to lose his job. While Pham finds himself on the injured list, Cronenworth has been one of the best players in baseball and combined with Fernando Tatis Jr. to make the best middle infield pairing in all of baseball.
All Cronenworth has done in his first taste of big league action is perform. His slash line of .356/.411/.624 is good for a wRC+ of 175 putting him in the top ten hitters this season. It doesn’t seem like he will regress much either as his Statcast profile is absolutely solid. Cronenworth leads the way in xBA with the highest mark in all of baseball at .396. Meanwhile, his xSLG of .717 and xwOBA of .386 are only bested by stars Juan Soto and Corey Seager.
Two things that drive Cronenworth’s excellence are that he strikes out just 15% of the time and he makes tons of premium contact. His exit velocity is good but not elite at 91.2 MPH but he combines that with a solid launch angle and excellent approach. That’s why he’s 14th in Barrels/PA% with nearly 11% of his ABs ending in excellent contact. For those who prefer visuals, here is the lefty Cronenworth crushing a double against the Rockies, and here is him launching a grand slam.
He doesn’t just bring it with the stick either. Defensively, Cronenworth has primarily played the keystone, but has also played every infield position which will help keep San Diego’s star packed infield fresh. He’s been worth +4 DRS across all of those positions which is an incredibly valuable commodity
It’s hard to fault the Rays for being willing to give up Cronenworth. Cronenworth was already 25 in AAA and the Rays have an overflow of middle infield options at the MLB level. The infielder is a bit of a late bloomer as he never showed this level of offense in the minors. His 147 wRC+ in AAA last season was an encouraging sign but rather that he could be some sort of utility piece opposed to a star.
The Padres will gladly take Cronenworth’s star level production as they march towards the playoffs looking like they could do serious damage. Cronenworth’s late blooming rise, strong offense and ability to play multiple positions have him looking a lot like former Rays standout late bloomer Ben Zobrist.
Pitchers will start to adjust and Cronenworth will too, but the San Diego Padres look to have a star studded infield with Tatis Jr., Cronenworth, Manny Machado, and the improved Eric Hosmer for years to come.