It is not often a big market team like the Boston Red Sox moves a starting player to a small market team like the Kansas City Royals for financial reasons, but that’s exactly what happened last off-season when Andrew Benintendi was dealt to the Royals in a three-team trade involving the Mets.
The move saved Boston from paying his $6.6 million salary to give them more financial flexibility to address other needs, while the Royals acquired a 26-year old outfielder who had been a 4.8 WAR player as recently as 2018, all while giving up four minor leaguers, none of which were top prospects - outfielders Franchy Cordero, Khalil Lee, and pitchers Grant Gambrell and Luis de la Rosa.
The trade was a mild surprise for a team that was still rebuilding like the Royals, but it signaled that they felt their timetable for contention was sooner than commonly assumed. Benintendi’s numbers in 2019 declined from his peak in 2018, and he was coming off a 2020 season lost to a rib injury, so there were some red flags. But the move was widely praised as an addition of a quality player in his prime, acquired without giving up much.
Benintendi’s 2021 season with the Royals has really been a four-act play. He struggled in the first two and a half weeks of the season, hitting below the Mendoza line in his first 16 games. But as the weather warmed up, so did his bat. He went on an 11-game hitting streak, enjoying a two-home run game against the Twins on May 1. By early June he was flirting with .300 and making the trade look like a huge win for Dayton Moore.
In a mid-June game in Oakland, Benintendi made a throw from left field that, at first, appeared benign. But it turned out he had suffered a hairline fracture of his rib cage, the same injury that had bothered him in 2020 and limited him to just 14 games. Benintendi would return on July 4, but his numbers went into a tailspin. Benintendi had been noted for his on-base skills going into the season, but his on-base percentage fell below .300 in September in a summer slump.
But Benny finished the season on a strong note with a red-hot September. In a seven-game road trip to Baltimore and Minnesota, Andrew hit .536/.548/.964 with three home runs and a whopping 14 RBI. In the last month alone, Benintendi was worth 1.4 WAR, according to Fangraphs, the ninth-best position player in the American League.
The four seasons of Andrew Benintendi
|April 1 - 21||16||.180||.254||.230||9.0%||25.4%|
|April 23 - June 13||44||.323||.374||.506||7.5%||16.1%|
|July 4 - September 2||45||.207||.232||.349||3.4%||21.3%|
|September 3 - October 3||29||.371||.429||.619||9.2%||11.8%|
The Royals brought in Benintendi to bring some plate discipline to their lineup, but of course, the Royals rubbed off on Benny more than he rubbed off on them. He posted by far the lowest walk rate of his career. But the rest of his numbers are pretty much in line with his career totals, and put him squarely as a very average hitter in MLB, which the Royals frankly need more of in their lineup.
Defensively, Benintendi seemed like a mixed bag. By the eye test, he seemed to have some mystifying gaffes at times, but he also was capable of terrific plays on occasion. He was above average in Outs Above Average, ninth among qualified outfielders in Ultimate Zone Rating, and 15th in Defensive Runs Saved. His arm was well below-average, and it wasn’t just because we missed Alex Gordon. Benny finished near the bottom of the league in Outfield Arm Runs. Despite that, he seems likely to be at least a finalist for a Gold Glove in left field.
The Royals have Benintendi under club control for one more season, and he won’t be cheap with a projected salary of over $9 million. The Royals don’t really have many top outfield prospects in the upper minors, so there may be a push to retain Benintendi past the 2022 season if he is amenable. He won’t turn 28 until next July, so he is still in the prime of his career and can serve as a very solid player who can do a little bit of everything well. Whether he wants to be part of the Royals’ future may be up to him.
What grade would you give Andrew Benintendi this year?
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