The Atlanta Braves have a gaping hole in left field, one attributable exclusively to Marcell Ozuna. Finger injuries sent Ozuna to the Injured List last week, where he may spend several weeks, and an arrest on domestic violence charges a day later completely clouds his future with the club. Now, from at least one quarter, comes a possible solution to the Braves’ left field vacancy that could involve the KC Royals.
Knowledgeable baseball writer Fred Owens at Tomahawk Take, our FanSided network sister site covering all things Braves, recently identified eight major league players Atlanta could consider trading for to replace Ozuna. Included in his list is Kansas City left fielder Andrew Benintendi, who the Royals acquired in February to fill their own left field hole and add a good lefty hitter.
The notion makes some sense. Like Ozuna, Benintendi is a left fielder with power and knows how to get on base. And Benintendi is a good lefthanded bat, a commodity worth having.
But from our perspective here at Kings of Kauffman, it’s not going to happen. Here’s why.
Andrew Benintendi is turning into the player the KC Royals traded for.
Like so many other acquisitions the suddenly aggressive KC Royals made over the winter, bringing Benintendi aboard was well-received by a fanbase craving new blood and excitement. But while his teammates put together an un-Royal-like 15-9 April and led the American League Central at month’s end, Benintendi had little more to show for the first month in his new home than a home run and a miserable .225 average.
Now, however, Benintendi owns AL pitching. He slashed .340/.377/.443 in May, then welcomed June with a grand slam and five RBIs against Pittsburgh Tuesday night. His .291 average leads the club, he’s hit five homers and driven in 23 runs, and his six steals are good for team second.
The Royals aren’t trading Benintendi when he’s what they needed and is proving they were right to get him.
Benintendi could be the KC Royals’ solution to the loss of Alex Gordon.
The day the Royals and their fans knew was coming and dreaded finally arrived late last September when eight-time Gold Glover and three-time All-Star Alex Gordon announced 2020 would be his last season. Although his bat had grown increasingly quiet in the last few years, his defense didn’t suffer and he remained a force to be feared and reckoned with by opposing base runners.
Gordon is an irreplaceable Royal for many reasons, a unique player who’ll walk easily into the club’s Hall of Fame when he’s first eligible. Someone, though, has to take his place (but not replace him), and Benintendi is a good candidate.
He may have more power than Gordon. He’ll hit for higher average—Gordon hit better than .271 only twice in 14 seasons (his best was .303 in 2011 and he finished his career at .257), while Benintendi, a career .275 hitter, has come in lower than .271 twice in his six seasons, and once was last year’s injury-stricken, 14-game .103. While he probably won’t win eight Gold Gloves, his defense is adequate.
And he could be around for awhile. Benintendi doesn’t turn 27 until July, he’s under team control through next season, and he likes Kauffman Stadium. He seems comfortable with the Royals, and they with him.
Atlanta wouldn’t give the KC Royals what’s needed to pry away Benintendi.
Few players are untouchable in this business, and despite the unlikelihood of the Royals being willing to move Benintendi, he doesn’t rank among the truly untouchables, a point Tomahawk Take’s Owens accurately recognizes when he suggests Atlanta should ask Kansas City if it would let Benintendi go for some pitching.
But it’s probably not pitching that would tempt the KC Royals to listen to overtures about Benintendi. Yes, their rotation is inconsistent, especially without Danny Duffy, but it’s a talented rotation with even more talent on the verge of joining it. Brad Keller is showing signs of turning his early season woes around, Kris Bubic may have ironed out whatever issues forced him back to the minors, and Brady Singer, the head of the marvelous collection of pitchers KC swept up in the 2018 draft that included Bubic, will come around.
Then, of course, there’s the rest of that 2018 class. Daniel Lynch was up with KC earlier this season and will be fine when he works out some kinks at Triple-A Omaha, where Jackson Kowar is 5-0 with an 0.85 ERA. (Kowar pitched another five scoreless innings Wednesday night, but left with the game knotted in a scoreless tie).
Those hurlers aren’t the only prime starters KC took in the 2018 draft, so there’s more where they came from. And the bullpen has had rough moments this season, but it’s still pretty good.
So, pitching probably won’t do it. Who might get the Royals’ ear, though, is Ronald Acuna Jr., a power hitter who brought 81 homers in four seasons to Atlanta’s table this year, including 14 in 46 games last season and 17 already in 2021. Acuna could more than offset Jorge Soler’s season-long slump and KC could use some production.
But a deal for Acuna isn’t going to happen. The Braves certainly aren’t letting him go, at least not unless Kansas City is prepared to give up Benintendi and a lot more than they could or should. Even if Atlanta could bring itself to even think about trading Acuna, the package of current Royals and prospects the Braves would demand in return is too prohibitive for Kansas City to consider. KC isn’t going to break apart what should be a serious contender in 2022.
And after Acuna, there isn’t much on Atlanta’s roster at this point that might seriously tempt the Royals to move Benintendi, or that the Braves would consider sacrificing to get him.
Owens and Tomahawk Take have some excellent ideas about how to replace Marcell Ozuna and, from Atlanta’s perspective, Benintendi is one of them. But it’s the kind of deal the KC Royals just aren’t going to make.
The Braves need a left fielder. They won’t be getting Andrew Benintendi.