Dayton Moore addressed the media last week and reiterated what he has said for weeks - despite being one of the more active teams this off-season, the club is not done. As he has previously said, Moore would like to add a left-handed bat, most likely an outfielder. While most of the attention has been on free agents, it is possible they could look to trade for a young outfielder with some controllable years left. According to a report by Jim Bowden of The Athletic, the Red Sox could be shopping young outfielder Andrew Benintendi.
According to multiple sources the #RedSox have been in serious trade talks with multiple teams re: OF Andrew Benintendi looking for prospect(s) type return with emphasis on P & OF....nothing imminent though— Jim Bowden (@JimBowdenGM) January 9, 2021
Moore did say that the club has exhausted trade possibilities and doesn’t have “a whole lot going on right now” on the trade front, but if that changes, could Benintendi be a good fit for the Royals?
Benintendi hails from Cincinnati, Ohio and was a first round pick by the Red Sox out of the University of Arkansas in 2015. He hit for a high average with good gap power and a high walk rate in the minors and impressed with a 34-game cup of coffee in the big leagues in 2016. After that season, Baseball America and MLB Pipeline both had him ranked as the best prospect in baseball.
In 2017, Benintendi hit .271/.352/.424 with 20 home runs and 20 steals in 151 games for the Red Sox. He was a 2.9 WAR player, according to Baseball Reference, and he finished second in Rookie of the Year voting to Aaron Judge. He improved his numbers in 2018, hitting .290/.366/.465 with 16 homers and 21 steals while showing good plate discipline with 71 walks, and was worth 4.5 WAR.
Benintendi put up his typical numbers in 2019, but after being a very low strikeout hitter his first two seasons, his whiff rate spiked up to 22.8 percent. In 2020, he got off to a dreadful start, going 4-for-39 with 17 strikeouts over his first 14 games before a ribcage injury ended his season.
Benintendi has shown a good blend of speed and power at the plate, combined with a solid career walk rate of 10.5 percent. But his performance over the last two seasons should diminish his value somewhat, as teams will be concerned over his sudden spike in strikeout rate. From 2016 to 2018, he struck out just 16.9 percent of the time, over the last two seasons he has struck out 23.5 percent of the time.
The left-handed hitter does have a fairly significant platoon split with much less power against lefties. He has hit .243/.328/.363 in his career against them, compared to .283/.361/.459 against right-handers.
Benintendi has been an adequate defender, and is probably more well-suited as a corner outfielder. He was a Gold Glove finalist in 2018 and 2019 in left field, although how deserving he was of a nomination is in dispute. Over the 2017-2019 seasons, he finished 19th among 49 qualified outfielders in UZR and 21st in DRS with +11. However, evaluators have noted his defense has declined recently. He also suffered a major drop off in speed this year, although the sample size was just 14 games and he did experience a quad injury back in March. His sprint speed went from 28.6 feet per second in 2016 to 26.6 ft/s this year, and he stole just 10 bases in 2019.
Benintendi will make $6.6 million next year, and will be in his final year of arbitration in 2022 before hitting free agency. At age 26, he has the youth to still have some upside, but after several years, it looks like the batting titles and multiple All-Star selections that some scouts saw in him as a prospect may not be there. His bat seems well-suited for Kauffman Stadium as a guy that can take advantage of the spacious outfield to hit for a high average with a lot of doubles, but his declining defense should be a concern.
The Royals do have pitching depth, and Dayton Moore has discussed using pitching as a “currency” in baseball. This might be a good buy-low opportunity, but it seems unlikely that Boston will want to part with someone with his kind of potential for a middling package of prospects. With Benintendi only under club control for two more years, and with questions about his performance, he doesn’t seem like a particularly good fit for where the Royals are in their success cycle.