The KC Royals’ acquisitions last winter of outfielders Michael A. Taylor and Andrew Benintendi turned heads, but for different reasons. The Royals obtained Taylor through free agency, then brought Benintendi aboard via a three-team trade that cost them promising prospects including Khalil Lee and Franchy Cordero, who they shipped to the Mets and Red Sox, respectively, as part of the deal.
Taylor’s was a deal no one really saw coming. A decent glove primarily, and speed and occasional power secondarily, kept him in the Nationals’ lineup for seven seasons, but his 2020 .196 and career .237 averages didn’t seem great fits for a KC club requiring major improvement at the plate.
Benintendi was a different matter. The left field replacement for retired Alex Gordon, he satisfied the Royals’ offseason-long quest for another lefthanded bat, was a far better hitter than Taylor, and defensively adequate.
At the end of the season, though, with a full Royal campaign behind them, Taylor and Benintendi shared two things—they’d established themselves as Kansas City lineup mainstays and first-time Gold Glove winners. Proof that Taylor’s defense gives the Royals enough reason to overlook his .244/.297/.356 2021 slash lies in the new two-year contract they gave him before the season ended. Arbitration-eligible Benintendi is under team control for another season and is expected to return.
But despite their seemingly secure status, will Taylor and Benintendi last the 2022 season with the Royals?
Michael A. Taylor might end up in trade deadline talks for the KC Royals.
Giving Taylor a two-year deal is hard to argue with. It’s affordable consideration (reportedly $9 million with some incentives) for a superb addition to Kansas City’s up-the-middle defense, which may be the best in baseball, and stabilizes center field for the first time since Lorenzo Cain last played there in 2017.
Ironically, it’s the financial reasonableness of Taylor’s contract—together with his stellar defense, of course—that may plunge him into the thick of discussions when the July trade deadline rolls around. Contenders might find that combination, and his value on the basepaths (five double-digit steal seasons, including 14 last year) attractive for their stretch runs.
Taylor’s two-year contract won’t hinder a trade. Clubs frequently deal players with more than a season left on their contracts, and some will consider getting help for a late-season run and the following season reason to call the Royals about their center fielder’s availability.
Still, Kansas City letting Taylor go would be surprising. Desperate for a reliable, everyday center fielder since Cain broke KC hearts by leaving for free agency and ultimately the Brewers four years ago, the Royals find themselves suddenly stable there, but with not much major league-ready outfield depth in the pipeline. Look for Taylor to survive the season.
Andrew Benintendi is certain to be mentioned in KC Royals trade discussions.
Save for an early season slump that left him with a .225 average at the end of April, and the time he missed later in the campaign with a rib fracture, Benintendi was what the Royals hoped he’d be when they traded Cordero and Lee (and later Luis De La Rosa and Grant Gambrell as players to be named later) to get him. Bolstered by a torrid final month in which he slashed .342/.398/.570 with five home runs and 29 RBIs, Benintendi finished with a .276 average and 17 homers. Those numbers and his Gold Glove proved the Royals could make it without Alex Gordon.
Good as it was, Benintendi’s excellent season presents the club with a dilemma. He arrived in Kansas City with one year of arbitration eligibility remaining and increased his value—now, the Royals must, unless current labor negotiations significantly alter the landscape of arbitration, decide whether to avoid the process’ risk by giving him a new, more lucrative deal (most likely in the form of a multi-year deal), roll the dice in the winner-take-all nature of arbitration, or trade him.
Look for President of Baseball Operations Dayton Moore and General Manager J.J. Picollo to convince principal owner John Sherman (if he needs convincing) to keep Benintendi. The team’s left and center field situations are the same—quite stable and more than satisfactory for the moment, but too lacking in depth to immediately move the starters.
Benintendi is, at least for now and by virtue of his much better bat, more likely July trade fodder than Taylor. However, and like Taylor, the Royals would be wise to keep him.
Other teams will be checking in on Michael A. Taylor and Andrew Benintendi. Kansas City should hang on to both.