According to multiple reports, the Boston Red Sox are open to trading Andrew Benintendi. In fact, those same sources indicate that the Red Sox are in talks with multiple clubs about a possible deal.
Per sources Red Sox continue to be open to moving OF Andrew Benintendi. Marlins and several other clubs are pursuing. Miami has pieces that make sense and looking for RF help. Change of scenery type move, if it happens. It could.— Craig Mish (@CraigMish) January 19, 2021
If these reports are accurate, Milwaukee has to be kicking the tires on this one. Andrew Benintendi was the #1 ranked prospect in all of baseball in 2017 according to Baseball America. He was supposed to be one of the building blocks for the future of the Red Sox. In 2018, he put up a 123 wRC+. He turns 27 in July and should be entering the prime years of his career. Why are the Red Sox putting him on the trading block? What is going on?
Benintendi played in just 14 games in 2020, and he was dreadful in those games. Ultimately his season was cut short due to a rib strain. But 2020 was an awful season for a multitude of MLB players.
Unfortunately for Benintendi and the Red Sox, 2019 was just a so-so season too. Benintendi was just a league average hitter. And his struggles actually started after the All-Star break of 2018, so his performance has been an issue for some time now. Much more was expected from the former first round pick, and it is starting to look as if the Red Sox are ready to move on, especially with a new regime hired on in 2019.
Chaim Bloom was brought on in 2019 to run the Red Sox. Prior to that he was part of the cost-conscious Tampa Bay Rays organization. Since his arrival, Bloom traded Mookie Betts and David Price, which removed a great deal of salary from the team’s payroll while getting a young and talented players in return: Alex Verdugo, Jeter Downs, and Connor Wong. Bloom was not willing to make the sizable commitment to Betts necessary to keep him.
Bloom on Betts: "When you have a star player that's approaching free agency, you know that it's going to take a sizable commitment to keep him here." pic.twitter.com/WPER5b2WKK— NBC Sports Boston (@NBCSBoston) February 11, 2020
Bloom let Jackie Bradley Jr. enter free agency. The Red Sox have not been seriously rumored in on any of the big free agent acquisitions. The Red Sox look like they are becoming a more disciplined organization from a budgetary standpoint than what was previously the case under Dave Dombrowski. Does that mean shedding more payroll and infusing the organization with more cost effective and controllable talent? In an interview with Dan Shaughnessy of the Boston Globe, Team President and CEO, Sam Kennedy suggests there is a price to pay for going for it in previous seasons.
I think it would be inaccurate to say we are going for it with an all-in approach that perhaps we did prior to the 2018 title...We cherish that title, and all of them, but the way we built that team came at a price, which included importantly a depleted farm system and some depleted draft picks along the way...So we are building back up, and as we do this hopefully the right way, we’ll have a chance to be competitive in the American League East in 2021, but also for the longer term.
That brings us to Andrew Benintendi. Benintendi has two more years of control remaining. While he is still affordable, it is possible that Bloom and Kennedy feel that there is too much risk of Benintendi’s value lessening with another league average hitting season. In this case, Bloom may be thinking about getting the most he can now and build for that brighter future in the next 3-5 years.
With that in mind, the Brewers have to be looking into this. And if they are and they were able to pull off this trade, it could be a small coup for Milwaukee. Yet there are things to be concerned with and buyer beware here.
Benintendi entered MLB with some of the fastest sprint speed in baseball. In 2016, he was in the top 11% in sprint speed. Those percentiles dropped each season thereafter with him demonstrating below league average sprint speed in 2020.
The loss in speed could be impacting his defense. In 2017, Benintendi posted a +12 DRS and a +9 DRS in 2018. In 2019 he posted a -3 DRS. Baseball Savant’s Outs Above Average defensive metric has never really liked Benintendi no matter the sprint speed. Each season he has rated between the 1st percentile and the 29th percentile. In essence, Benintendi may not be a great defender even though he has had a reputation as one.
What about his bat? Obviously he was an awful hitter in 2020, slashing .103/.314/.128. Plus in 2019 he began to strikeout a lot (22.8% K% in 2019), which is something that was not the case previously. This increasingly looks like a player that is playing through injuries, trying to get to extra power and failing in other areas, having a tough time adjusting to the league’s adjustments to him, or some combination.
Nonetheless Benintendi had a prior reputation that was at least somewhat merited. In 2018, the Red Sox outfielder slashed .290/.366/.465 while hitting 16 home runs. In 2017, he slashed .271/.352/.424 while hitting 20 home runs. Both seasons were quality, especially when you add the 20+ stolen bases and run production for which he was responsible.
What is intriguing about Benintendi in 2018 and even 2019 was the number of doubles and triples he hit. In 2018, he hit 41 doubles and 6 triples. In 2019, he hit 40 doubles and 5 triples. Those were his age 23-24 and 24-25 seasons. Do those doubles and triples start to go over the fence more is an important question.
2021 will be his age 26-27 season. As he enters his prime, theoretically he should tap into more power. Christian Yelich was yet to tap into his power prior to coming to Milwaukee, and he was entering his age-26 season as well at that time. Might there be a parallel?
The answer is likely no. Yelich was hitting the ball really hard, but not tapping into in-game power. In 2017, Yelich was in the 93rd percentile in exit velocity and 95th percentile in hard hit percentage. Compare that to Benintendi’s 2019. In that season, Benintendi’s exit velocity was in the 46th percentile and hard hit percentage in the 41st percentile.
So trading for Benintendi is not an opportunity to get the second coming of Christian Yelich. Benintendi, in fact, might be just who he is; a 15-20 homer guy with 40 plus doubles and triples who can get on base and swipe a bag occasionally. If Benintendi can discover his plate discipline again, he becomes a very useful player that gets on base at a high clip, scores a lot of runs, disrupts the base paths, and hits right handed pitching very well (career .821 OPS against right handed pitching vs. career .691 OPS against left handed pitching). That is a valuable asset.
Andrew Benintendi has been seen as a potential perennial All-Star. Maybe that could be the case. More likely, Benintendi is a valuable player that will have a very nice career who is on the cusp of entering his aged prime. Also playing him to his strengths might lead to a more productive player overall. Milwaukee is just the type of team to do that. If the Red Sox were willing to part with Benintendi for a package of prospects commiserate with a solid-to-good player as opposed to an All-Star player, then the Brewers could be a potential trading partner.
Statistics courtesy of Fangraphs and Baseball Savant