KC Royals: Nicky Lopez may thank Andrew Benintendi

(Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images)
(Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images) /

One member of the KC Royals should feel relieved when Andrew Benintendi arrives.

The KC Royals’ Wednesday night acquisition of outfielder—and, more importantly, lefthanded hitter—Andrew Benintendi is welcome news to the club and its fans, both of whom could be excused if they’d grown weary and frustrated with the long quest for another lefty bat.

One current Royal may be especially relieved to know the hunt ended well. It’s not unreasonable or unrealistic to think Nicky Lopez, the second baseman with a marvelous glove but weak bat, is thrilled.

Like Benintendi, Lopez hits lefthanded; unlike his new teammate, Lopez shows little aptitude for major league pitching. General Manager Dayton Moore’s offseason focus on finding a lefthanded bat to boost the fortunes of his inconsistent offense was undoubtedly triggered in no small part by the weak lineup link that is Lopez.

Lopez will drag a troubling two-year .228/.279/.307 slash into spring training next week, including last season’s .201/.286/.266. The truncated season may have lessened the pain, but watching Lopez hit in 2020 was wrenching. He seemed to press too often and appeared tight and tense.

In stark contrast, Benintendi’s credentials are established. Although an injury deprived him of all but 14 games in 2020 and could account more than anything for his uncharacteristic .106 average because he never really got started, his five-year line of .273/.353/.435 proves his offensive bona fides. He also brings power Lopez hasn’t, and may never, display.

Benintendi will be good for the Royals—left field is certainly his destination, so he solves the puzzle of finding Alex Gordon’s replacement, he’s fine defensively, and he adds punch and power to a lineup plagued by lack of both.

But he may be even better for Lopez. With Benintendi’s arrival comes relief: hitting won’t be as critical for the second baseman whose struggles at the plate sometimes overshadow what he means defensively to the KC Royals. As 610 Sports Radio’s Josh Vernier reports, there should be less pressure on Lopez at the plate:

So, add one more positive aspect to analysis of the Benintendi trade. Lopez is a gift at second base, a sure-bet future Gold Glover whose defensive skills may someday eclipse Frank White’s. But the truth is he may never hit as well as the Royals want him to.

The expectation, then, seems clear—Kansas City anticipates Benintendi sparking its offense and relieving some of the stress occasioned by the depth of Lopez’s hitting woes. Although Lopez’s troubles with the bat don’t appear to have significantly affected his defense—if they’ve had any negative impact at all—Benintendi’s presence should help mitigate the second baseman’s offensive inadequacies and stave off any potential bleed over. The Royals need a relaxed Lopez in the field.

How much breathing room Benintendi gives Lopez remains to be seen, and Moore’s comments shouldn’t be interpreted to mean Lopez gets a complete pass at the plate. Tolerance for offensive shortcomings isn’t unlimited in the major leagues; Moore and the Royals can’t afford to forgive their second sacker’s light bat if it gets considerably weaker. But just knowing the trade gives him some leeway, and some space to work on his hitting, should take a good bit of pressure of Lopez. That can’t be anything but good for him in the batter’s box.

For that, Lopez will probably thank Andrew Benintendi. And Dayton Moore.

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Trading for Andrew Benintendi gives Nicky Lopez a bit of breathing room. That’s good for Lopez and the KC Royals.