Boston might have the lefthanded bat the KC Royals have been searching for this winter.
Everyone in and around baseball knows the KC Royals want to find a lefthanded hitter with punch and power for the heart of their agonizingly inconsistent lineup.
Ideally, but somewhat curiously considering the organization’s plethora of talented young outfielders, their search will end with the acquisition, via trade or free agency, of an outfielder who can decisively fill Alex Gordon’s old slot in left. Uncertainty has plagued the outfield for too long; the signing of Michael A. Taylor to play center firms up Whit Merrifield in right, but nothing is settled in left. Franchy Cordero has the inside track, but lacks an established power tool. Although Hunter Dozier can move to left if necessary, the Royals probably want him to stay at third.
And there are more outfielders on the market than third basemen. Michael Brantley, for example, hits lefty and likely has enough power to satisfy Moore. Jurickson Profar, frequently bandied about the Internet as a potential Royal, switch hits and has clubbed 20 homers twice. And Jackie Bradley Jr., yet another lefthanded hitter, has sufficient pop; although he’s a centerfielder, a move to left wouldn’t be complicated.
There is, however, another lefthanded hitting option that could be a good Royal fit. According to mlb.com’s Mark Feinsand (Twitter link), Bradley’s Boston teammate Andrew Benintendi is supposedly being shopped and could be a hot commodity.
Benintendi makes some Royal sense for several reasons. At 26, he’s younger than Brantley and Bradley, who are entering their age 34 and 31 seasons, and even Profar, who’ll be 28 next month. Benintendi’s relative youth complements the Royals’ current build-for-now-and-the-future philosophy.
He also represents some guaranteed stability—he isn’t eligible for free agency until after the 2022 season, so he’d be under Kansas City control for at least two seasons.
And his numbers seem good. Benintendi’s 49 home runs from 2017-19 prove his power; it may not be Jorge Soler-type power, but it’s probably enough for the Royals. He draws more than his share of walks and boasts a five-year career OBP of .353 to go with a .273 average. His disappointing 2020 must be discounted—missing most of the campaign with injuries accounts for his .103, no homer performance—and .266 the year before was his lowest, but still serviceable.
He can also steal bases, a good thing indeed considering his ability to get on base. He’s at least average with the glove.
And bringing Benintendi into the fold means the KC Royals wouldn’t have to face him—he owns a .362/.416/.580 career slash against them.
But can the KC Royals afford Benintendi?
There are downsides to any player, and Benintendi’s involve cost. First is the cost of acquisition—whoever he plays for in 2021 is on the hook for the final $6.6 million of the two-year, $10 million deal he signed before last season. The way Moore and the Royals are dealing this offseason, however, suggests they can afford to bring Benintendi on board. Coaxing the Red Sox into sharing a bit of the cost could seal the financial end of a potential deal.
Then there’s the cost to acquire Benintendi, which could be steep. Boston’s willingness to trade its first round 2015 draft pick suggests trimming payroll may be the club’s chief motive, but the Sox won’t let him go without realizing a considerable return.
Boston could use a lefthanded starter in case Chris Sale doesn’t bounce back from Tommy John surgery. The KC Royals have Danny Duffy, but the Red Sox aren’t about to take him in trade unless KC agrees to eat a sizeable portion of the $15.5 million due Duffy on the last year of his contract, or packages some good prospects or a regular or two in the deal.
Because the Royals have so many excellent pitching prospects—especially starters who seem destined to form a stellar rotation for years to come—giving up any of them seems unwise, at least at this point. Bobby Witt Jr., the player every team wants, isn’t going anywhere and another oft-coveted Royal, Whit Merrifield, is too much to surrender for Benintendi.
Who’s left? The Red Sox have needs at second base and might consider taking Nicky Lopez, whose problems at the plate may tempt Kansas City to deal him. That’s unlikely, though, because the Royals haven’t yet grown too weary of his offensive shortcomings. Dozier is a possibility, especially if the club believes Witt is so close to the big leagues that it can trust Kelvin Gutierrez to hold down third base until he arrives.
And then there are all those outfielders crowding the Royal picture. Although Taylor is certainly off limits, Boston might find any of Cordero, Edward Olivares, Nick Heath, Khalil Lee, Kyle Isbel or Seuly Matias attractive. Who KC might be willing to part with is the question; the numbers, though, mean something eventually has to give.
Benintendi will cost the KC Royals. But if he’s as available as he seems to be, they shouldn’t ignore him.
Kansas City’s search for a lefthanded bat continues. Will it end with Andrew Benintendi?