So You're Thinking About Getting a Benintendi

Here's what you need to know about the new Royals left fielder.

The Royals had a list heading into this offseason. They wanted a starter, a reliever or two, a middle of the order bat who could get on base, a center fielder and a left-handed outfielder. They crossed off most of their list early with Mike Minor, Greg Holland, Carlos Santana and Michael A. Taylor (and have periodically added in some minor league deals too), but the left-handed bat was their white whale.

Until now.

Last night, the Royals traded for Andrew Benintendi from the Red Sox, who at one time was on a star trajectory and has since fallen on hard times. You know the details, but I have to paint the full picture. They gave up Franchy Cordero to the Red Sox and the Mets snuck in to be a part of the deal and got Khalil Lee. They’ll also trade two players to be named later to the Red Sox, so we won’t know the full extent of this deal for a few months, but in general, they traded unproven upside for a proven commodity…with something to prove.

Benintendi was the seventh overall pick in 2015 out of Arkansas and spent all of 151 games in the minors before debuting at 22 in August of the next season. He hit well, but retained rookie eligibility so he was the top prospect heading into the next season and had a commendable rookie year before breaking out in 2018, hitting .290/.366/.465 and playing a tough left field very well.

The beginning of his 2019 was rough. He kept fouling balls off his right leg. And the end was tough due to an oblique injury. But it took a brutal September to bring his numbers down that year. He was hitting .283/.357/.459 at the end of August and then proceeded to hit just .141/.243/.219 the last month. Of course, then he played in only 14 games in 2020 and hit .103/.314/.128. Yep, he had just four hits and only one extra base hit. So his last 35 games have been brutal.

It was another injury that plagued his 2020 season, a rib injury that ended his year on August 11, which was obviously just a couple weeks after the season started in the 60-game schedule. So what does this all mean for him going forward?

To me, the biggest thing is that if he’s healthy, there’s very little reason to assume he’s anything but the guy who hit .282/.358/.451 before the oblique injury derailed his 2019 season. Is there a reason to assume he’ll stay healthy? Well no, obviously not, but before the injury, he found himself getting better and better contact every season. His barrel rate was improving as was his hard hit rate and his xSLG was rising every season.

I facetiously tweeted this last night:

Obviously we’re ignoring that sample size. It’s only 39 plate appearances, come on! But if we’re ignoring that, shouldn’t we ignore the 52 plate appearance sample that was his broken 2020 season? It’s worth knowing, but is it worth evaluating? I honestly don’t know the answer to that question in absolutes, but I know that it doesn’t mean a whole lot. It’s just about health to me.

Take a look at this sweet swing at his new park when he’s healthy.

My thoughts on the deal are that I really liked Franchy Cordero and the potential he had. He’s also only two months younger than Benintendi. I’ve really liked Khalil Lee for a long time, but he’s sort of stalled out for the Royals and with Kyle Isbel’s rise and the expected rise of Erick Pena soon, the Royals at least have a couple of guys who made him expendable. We’ll obviously have to see on the PTBNLs, but if the Royals are getting a healthy Benintendi, they made themselves better yesterday.

Of course, there’s every chance for this deal to blow up in their faces. Maybe the Mets can help Lee lift the ball and turn him into something special. Maybe Cordero finally stays healthy and shows us what we saw even in quick glimpses. But I think that’s a risk worth taking to get a player with the pedigree of Benintendi. And hey, they’ve still got some money to spend, so maybe they’re not done.