KC Royals: Who’s winning the Andrew Benintendi trade?

The KC Royals traded four players for a new lefty bat. Who’s coming out ahead?

Conspicuously absent from the KC Royals’ lineup in Pittsburgh Tuesday night was the newcomer they traded four players to get in February, the new lefthanded bat acquired to take Alex Gordon’s place. Andrew Benintendi sat out a game for only the second time this season.

At almost the same time, and nearly 400 miles away in New York, one of the players the Royals gave up for Benintendi also found himself on the bench; although he’s played left field 16 times for Boston this year, and pinch hit late in the game, Franchy Cordero didn’t start. (Even farther away from the action was Khalil Lee, the promising prospect Kansas City traded to the Mets to facilitate the three-team Benintendi deal; Lee works now at the team’s Alternate Training Site).

The trade can’t be fully evaluated until those involved see more action with their new clubs (and the Royals complete the transaction by sending the always-mysterious “players to be named later”—two of them, in fact—to the Red Sox), but one thing is clear as the season’s first month nears its end.

So far, the deal hasn’t been what Kansas City or Boston hoped for, but the slight edge goes to the Royals.

Benintendi turned out to be the lefthanded bat with pop KC General Manager Dayton Moore sought throughout the winter; whether he was Moore’s first choice isn’t known, but he’s who Moore landed. Benintendi came with what the Royals like in their outfielders—speed, a decent glove, some power, and the ability to get on base.

But a popular rap on Benintendi was his perceived decline. After hitting a combined .281 with 38 homers and 191 RBIs from 2016-2018, he dropped to .266 in 2019 and hit just .103 in an injury and pandemic-shortened 2020 campaign. Some observers believed Benintendi’s efforts to increase his strength contributed to his troubles at the plate; count Alex Cora, who managed him in 2019, among them.

Now, Benintendi closely resembles the player whose struggles continued through his first spring training with the Royals (.225 with no homers and three RBIs in 17 games): he’s slashing .227/.293/.307 with a homer and six RBIs, hardly the numbers the KC Royals bargained for. If there’s a silver lining, the .333 he’s managed in the last five games is it. And defensively, Benintendi’s two errors in 38 chances are acceptable—no one expects him to duplicate Gordon’s eight Gold Gloves.

And what of Cordero’s defense in Boston? He seems to be acclimating to the perplexing idiosyncrasies of Fenway Park’s fascinating outfield, but it’s his bat that may force the Sox to send him out when the minor league season finally begins in a few days.

Until he struck out pinch hitting Tuesday night, Cordero hadn’t played since Saturday; counting Tuesday’s brief appearance, he’s 1-for-23 in his last nine games. His strikeout rate is almost 47 percent. He has no home runs and is batting .196.

Cordero’s regular season start is in stark contrast to his good, albeit short, Cactus League performance. Although he spent time on the COVID-19-related Injury List, he hit .294 in six spring games.

But there’s been no success for Cordero since, rendering him a prime candidate for remedial work in the minors if things don’t improve soon. His talent and potential are undisputed; he simply needs to find his way and avoid the nagging injuries that have limited him to less than 350 at-bats in five big league seasons.

It seems likely, then, that while Benintendi tries to work his way to better hitting in Kansas City, Cordero will try to get better in Triple-A.

The KC Royals traded four players for Andrew Benintendi, including Franchy Cordero. Benintendi hasn’t been everything the Royals need, but KC is still a bit ahead on the deal.