Appreciating Benintendi’s (Likely) Final Days with the Royals

We are roughly a month away from the August 2nd Trade Deadline (pushed back a few days from the traditional July 31st deadline due to the lockout). The Royals have already shown that they’re going to be active players on the trade market, first demonstrated by their trade of Carlos Santana to the Seattle Mariners for a pair of pitching prospects. In addition, many Royals players are being mentioned as trade candidates, including Whit Merrifield, whom the Royals have elected not to part with despite massive interest in the past few seasons.

In addition to Whit, Michael A. Taylor, Brad Keller, and Scott Barlow are also being mentioned across the league in possible trade talks (as I wrote about in my post on Friday).

Without a doubt, this is a Royals roster that could look vastly different on August 3rd, which could be exciting and disappointing for Royals fans, especially those who have developed fan followings of long-time Royals players like Whit, Keller, and Barlow.

The biggest trade chip the Royals have (and most likely to be traded as well) is left fielder Andrew Benintendi. Acquired from the Red Sox prior to the 2021 season, Benintendi has been as good as advertised in Kansas City and has bounced back after an injury-plagued final season in Boston in 2020. A former top prospect in all of baseball back in 2017, according to Baseball America, Benintendi hasn’t quite lived up to that “superstar” hype, not just in his time in Kansas City, but also with the Red Sox as well.

And yet, Benintendi has still proved to be a fringe-All Star (he’s likely the Royals’ lone All-Star representative, should he still be on the Royals roster by the All-Star game), as well as a Gold Glove outfielder, as he won the award in 2021.

Considering the shadow Alex Gordon left in left field in Kansas City when he retired after the 2020 season, Benintendi has held his own in Gordo’s old position and has become not just a productive player with the Royals, but a slight fan favorite as well. This is despite most Royals fans knowing his time could be limited. (He only had two years left in arbitration when the Royals acquired him in 2021).

Benintendi will most likely be gone from Kansas City at some point. The high likelihood will be before or by the Trade Deadline, especially with Benintendi’s name being floated as an option in Atlanta, Philadelphia, Toronto, and most recently, the Bronx, where his left-handed stroke would benefit from Yankee Stadium’s short right-field porch.

So, with Benintendi probably as good as gone, what should Royals fans think about his tenure in Kansas City, even if it only lasts roughly 1.5 seasons?

Honestly, despite his brevity of tenure in Kansas City, there is a lot to appreciate about what Benny brought to the Royals in 2021 and 2022.

Despite his once “top prospect” status and 2018 postseason heroics, baseball fans forget how low Benintendi’s stock had dropped after the 2020 season.

After posting a five fWAR season in 2018 with the Red Sox, Benintendi saw his fWAR regress to 1.8 over 138 games. His defense, which was 4.2 runs above average in 2018, according to Fangraphs, regressed to 6.4 runs BELOW average in 2019, mostly fueled by nagging injuries Benintendi incurred that season. Additionally, Benintendi’s wRC+ went from 123 in 2018 to 100 in 2019, highlighted by a lower walk rate and high strikeout rate.

And then, in 2020, everything just bottomed out for Benintendi.

Injury basically cost him most of the season, as he only played 14 games and accumulated 52 plate appearances during the COVID-shortened season. During this limited stint, he generated a 43 wRC+ and -0.4 fWAR. Safe to say, it was the worst season of Benintendi’s career and a big reason why the Red Sox were willing to part with him. After the trade of Mookie Betts to Los Angeles, it seemed like Red Sox Chief Baseball Officer Chaim Bloom was ready to move on from Benintendi and build a “new” outfield in Boston.

Dayton Moore and the Royals certainly took a risk on Benintendi. Not only was he an injury risk, but it was also possible that the Royals were getting a player who was simply declining, his peak being in 2018 during the Red Sox’s World Series-winning season.

Thankfully for the Royals and Benintendi, that proved to be NOT the case.

Benintendi still dealt with injuries in 2021, as he only played in 134 games due to nagging injuries in May and July. However, when he was on the field, Benintendi produced.

Last season, over 538 plate appearances, Benny produced a .276/.324/.442 slash which included 17 home runs, 73 RBI, a 106 wRC+, and an fWAR of 1.8. While his Fangraphs Def rating wasn’t impressive (3.8 runs below average), his 7 DRS and 4.9 UZR painted a different story and were both key metrics utilized in his Gold Glove candidacy (which he won).

In 2022, Benintendi has been even better offensively, even if the power hasn’t materialized as much, as Trey Donovan wrote about on Inside the Royals.

Yes, Benintendi has only hit three home runs, and .086 ISO is 80 points lower than a season ago. Take the power away though, and Benny has been a crucial force for this Royals lineup in the No. 2 spot of the batting order.

Benny is currently posting a triple slash of .308./.372/.394 with a 122 wRC+ in 74 games and 312 plate appearances. He has boosted his walk rate from 6.7 percent in 2021 to 9.3 percent in 2022 and likewise, he has dropped his K rate from 18 percent in 2021 to 13.8 percent in 2022.

His plate discipline has been much needed for a Royals lineup that features free swingers such as Whit, Hunter Dozier, and Salvador Perez, just to name a few. His 23.1 percent chase rate is 5.4 percent below league average, according to Savant. This is mostly fueled by a more patient approach overall, as Benintendi is only swinging 48.6 percent of the time, a significant decline from his 52.5 percent swing rate in 2021, which was a career-high.

He has seen a decline in barrel rate this year, as it has gone from 8.9 percent in 2021 to 5 percent this year. However, though the launch angle on batted balls is 4.2 degrees less than a year ago, he is actually hitting more line drives in 2022 (25.5 percent) than in 2021 (21.8 percent). That is a big reason why he is hitting over .300 and benefiting from a .352 BABIP this season.

As evidenced from his spray chart, Benintendi produces a batted-ball profile that takes advantage of Kauffman Stadium’s spacious grounds. That was hope for Benintendi when he was acquired, and thankfully, especially this year, he has lived up to that expectation.

Here’s an example of Benintendi exhibiting that “all field” hitting approach against the Baltimore Orioles on June 9th at Kauffman Stadium. Benintendi connected on a Jordan Lyles changeup on the outside corner to the opposite field and was able to leg out an easy double as a result.

Safe to say, Benintendi’s approach at the plate has a very 80s and 90s feel to it.

It’s a shame that he wasn’t playing in Kansas City during that timeframe. If he had, he probably would be more appreciated by the Royals’ management and fanbase.

There was some hope that the Royals could sign Benny to an extension after his solid campaign last year. Unfortunately, the Royals probably missed their window to do so in 2021, right when they acquired him.

At that time, his value was at an all-time low, and Moore probably could’ve signed him to a four or five-year extension that would have been in the Royals’ price range. However, he bounced back in the second half of 2021, and predictably, Benintendi held out, as a result, banking on himself for 2022 (which has paid off so far).

The fact that the Royals and Benintendi went to arbitration, which only happened once prior in the Moore-era (Brandon Maurer), was a sign that Benny’s time would be limited in 2022.

Benny did win his case, but, as is typical with arbitration cases, it is likely that a lot of goodwill between the two parties was kiboshed in the process (and thus, probably ending the chance of Benintendi taking some kind of “team friendly” deal). Benintendi’s tenure will be remembered in Royals history as a fleeting one, up there with similar “short” Royals outfielder tenures like Melky Cabrera, Scott Podsednik, Jeff Franceour, Jose Guillen, Nori Aoki, and Alexis Rios, just to name a few.

It’s too bad that Benintendi couldn’t be utilized as a franchise cornerstone, especially since he won’t turn 28 until July 6th. However, with young stars like MJ Melendez, Vinnie Pasquantino, and of course, Bobby Witt, Jr., the Royals need to clear future salary space for those players, and not burn long-term cash on Benny, who honestly, probably is who he is right now as a player.

Does that make the Benny acquisition a failure?

Definitely not. He boosted the Royals offensively and defensively the past two years, and he brought stability on the field and in the clubhouse, though he didn’t seem to be a vocal leader by any means (though neither was Gordo). Furthermore, if he produces a nice return of prospects, then one can say Benny’s short tenure was ultimately worth it at the end of the day.

Let’s see what Benny will net in a possible trade…

Because that could make his legacy in Kansas City an even more positive one, especially if the return produces something that sets up the Royals roster for long-term success, much like the Zack Greinke deal with Milwaukee back in 2010.

Photo Credit: Reed Hoffman/Getty Images

9 thoughts on “Appreciating Benintendi’s (Likely) Final Days with the Royals

  1. Benintendi has been a solid player since making it to the Big League’s back in 2016 with the BoSox. He also has a great glove but it just doesn’t seem to be a great fit for him with the Royals and he will probably benefit from a new team, especially a bigger market team where he seems to shine under the bright lights.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Yeah, it seems like he will benefit in a new environment. He is a great complimentary player, but I’m not sure you can really build a team around him, which the Royals would need to do to keep him here financially. He can get more with a bigger market team, and still just be a solid role-player, fringe All Star type.


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