The Royals have a few players that could draw interest from other clubs as the August 2 trade deadline approaches, but if there is one player drawing the most interest it is All-Star outfielder Andrew Benintendi.
The 28-year-old has finally put the injuries of the last two seasons behind him and is enjoying one of his best offensive seasons just before he hits free agency. He is third in the league in batting average and sixth in on-base percentage. His line of .313/.384/.396 is good for a 125 wRC+, ranking 25th among all qualified American League hitters. After a dip in walk rate last year, Benny has rebounded to post the 24th-best rate in the American League this year at 10.4 percent, and he has slashed his strikeout rate to 14.1 percent, the 15th-lowest in the league. He is also coming off his first Gold Glove season and leads all AL outfielders in UZR this year.
Benintendi is in the prime of his career, does not have an onerous contract - he will make $8.5 million this year - and could help a lot of teams as a hitter that can get on base and play good defense. Accordingly, he has generated a ton of interest. The Yankees are looking into acquiring him. The Blue Jays are interested in him. The Padres reportedly had exploratory talks with the Royals. The Rays, Braves, Guardians, and Rangers could all be interested in him as well. ESPN’s Jeff Passan recently talked about what should be a big market for Benny’s services on the Baseball Tonight podcast.
“Andrew Benintendi is that very unique deadline player. Everyone wants him.. The low payroll teams want him, the high payroll teams want him. Big markets want him, small markets want him. When Andrew Benintendi goes, I think Kansas City better get an absolute haul for him because the interest is, frankly, just off the charts from everyone.
So the asking price could be high, but how high? An instructive recent trade would be the deal last summer for Starling Marte. At the time, Marte was a 32-year-old centerfielder who had long been an established starter and former Gold Glove-winner and All-Star. He was also a soon-to-be free agent and was enjoying a career-best season worth about the same in WAR as Benintendi is now. The Marlins flipped him to the Athletics for pitcher Jesus Luzardo, a then-23-year-old lefty who was once ranked as a top ten prospect in all of baseball, but had suffered from injuries and ineffectiveness in a season and a half in the big leagues.
Kris Bryant was another outfielder traded last summer in his walk year, going from the Cubs to the Giants. While his track record at the time was more decorated than Benintendi as a former MVP, his OPS+ was 129, not too much more than Benintendi now. Bryant was traded for outfielder Alexander Canario - ranked #9 in the Giants system by MLB Pipeline - and pitcher Caleb Kilian, ranked #30.
Further back, the Tigers traded free-agent-to-be Yoenis Cespedes to the Mets for their pennant run in 2015. Cespedes had more power, but a similar OPS+ to Benintendi at 125, and despite his World Series miscue (he misplayed the first-inning inside-the-park-home-run against Alcides Escobar) he was known as a solid defender. The Tigers were able to net pitcher Michael Fulmer - at the time ranked the seventh-best prospect in the Mets farm system - and pitcher Luis Cessa, ranked sixteenth. Both were able to exceed those expectations - Fulmer won Rookie of the Year in 2016 and was a 5 WAR pitcher before injuries got him, while Cessa became a solid swingman for the Yankees for several years.
The truth is, hitters net less at the trade deadline than pitchers. Every team needs more arms for October, but not as many teams are willing to give up a good bat. Nick Castellanos in 2019 was traded by the Tigers to the Cubs for Paul Richan and Alex Lange, neither of which were top-ten prospects in the farm system. Andrew McCutchen was traded by the Pirates to the Yankees in 2018 for two non-top-20 prospects.
This isn’t to say that the Royals shouldn’t trade Benintendi. He is a free agent, and getting something for him in a lost season is better than nothing (the Royals could always try to re-sign him this winter if they want him long-term). And maybe Passan is right and Benintendi bucks the trend and nets a haul this summer.
But it is probably unlikely for them to get a top 100 prospect for a hitter who does everything well, but isn’t a big power or impact bat. If the Royals play it right, they can hopefully net a prospect who is in the top ten in that team’s farm system, and another interesting minor leaguer or two. And that is another baby step in getting them back to contention.
Thanks to CregWalker for the research on past trade.