Raise your hand if you thought the Royals were going to make a big move in the middle of February? With Spring Training but a fortnight away, I figured the Royals pretty much had their roster pool set and were heading west to Surprise, Arizona for some Cactus League fun. In case you missed it, the Royals acquired Andrew Benintendi, a 26-year-old outfielder from the Boston Red Sox. Headed east are outfielder Franchy Cordero and minor league outfield speedster Khalil Lee. Lee is headed to the New York Mets as part of the 3 team deal, with Cordero on his way to Boston. There are also reportedly two PTBNLs (Players To Be Named Later) from the Royals organization in the deal.
So, what are the Royals getting, in return? Benintendi was drafted by Boston with the 7th overall pick in the 2015 Draft, out of the University of Arkansas (Woo Pig). Arkansas is a college baseball factory, and he didn’t disappoint in Fayetteville. Known for his mix of speed and power, with a good hit tool, it was easy to dream on Benintendi hitting .290 with multiple 20/20 seasons. He wasted no time in nearly living up to those expectations in 2017, when he had exactly 20 home runs, 20 stolen bases and a .271 batting average. 2018 continued on the same trajectory, this time finishing with 16/20 and a .290 average. In 2019, the average dipped back to .266 with 13 bombs and 10 bags.
The public perception of Benintendi is that he isn’t very good. I don’t agree with that notion, simply because a player not living up to 20/20 expectations with a plus hit tool is completely NORMAL. Most players do not produce at that level statistically. So, while Benintendi may not be a perennial All-Star, he still can be quite the useful player at a very modest salary. According to Cot’s Baseball Contracts, he is scheduled to make $3.4 million in 2021, with free agency arriving in 2022. At that cost, the Royals would be happy to get a player than can hit .275 with a 15/15 season possible. I wouldn’t put it past Benintendi to reach the 20 stolen base mark either, as the Royals like to get their runners in motion on the base paths.
We have acquired OF Andrew Benintendi and cash considerations from the Boston Red Sox in a three-team trade.
— Kansas City Royals (@Royals) February 11, 2021
By taking a look at some advanced metrics, Benintendi’s exit velocity has increased each year from 2016 onward. His launch angle has increased 3.2 percent, going from 14.1 to 17.3 percent. The K rate is slightly elevated, however the walk rate remains steady at a decent 9.6%. One area of weakness that I see developing for him is in his Chase %. In 2017, he swung at 25.1% of pitchers thrown out of the zone. In 2019, that number elevated to 29.5%. Pitchers are keenly aware of this data and will continue to look to induce swings out of the zone when the count is in their favor. If Benintendi is able to focus on hammering pitches in the zone rather than chasing balls out of the zone, I can envision a .280 average with 15 home runs and 20-25 stolen bases. Should that occur, teams will be quite interested in the free agent to be.
The three-way trade is done, sources tell ESPN.
Royals get: OF Andrew Benintendi
Mets get: OF Khalil Lee
Red Sox get: OF Franchy Cordero, RHP Josh Winckowski, two PTBNLs from Kansas City, one PTBNL from New York
— Jeff Passan (@JeffPassan) February 11, 2021
From a standpoint of what the Royals gave up, I’m most disheartened to see that they gave up Khalil Lee. I ranked Lee #9 on my recent Royals Top 50 Prospects article. Blessed with a nice blend of power and easy speed, Lee seemed destined to make it to the big leagues in 2021. It was just 2 years ago, the last full minor league season, that Lee finished 2nd in stolen bases with 53, among all minor leaguers! Franchy Cordero is a 4th outfielder/bench type bat that could produce handsomely in streaks of starts, although I’d suspect the Red Sox will give him every opportunity to start in left field for them. Jarren Duran‘s debut is not too far away, so the Cordero leash may be short.
All in all, I like the move for the Royals. Benintendi gives them a better shot at relevance in 2021, with a possible extension of the contract, given the possible financial restrictions the pandemic has brought on. He plays at a reasonable salary given the expected return and while giving up Lee hurts the farm system, he is the type of player that would need to be moved to bring in a solid player like Andrew Benintendi.