Royals land Benintendi in 3-team trade

February 11th, 2021

The left-handed bat the Royals have searched for all offseason has arrived in outfielder .

The Royals completed a three-team trade with the Red Sox and Mets on Wednesday night, acquiring Benintendi from Boston while sending outfielder and two players to be named to Boston. Outfield prospect is going to the Mets, while New York is sending two players to the Red Sox. Lee was the Royals’ No. 8 prospect per MLB Pipeline.

Trade breakdown
Royals get:
OF Andrew Benintendi and cash considerations (from BOS)
Red Sox get: OF Franchy Cordero and two players to be named (from KC), RHP Josh Winckowski and player to be named (from NYM)
Mets get: OF Khalil Lee (from KC)

Benintendi is owed $6.6 million in 2021, and comes with two years of club control. The Red Sox are sending $2.8 million of Benintendi’s ’21 salary to the Royals, a source told MLB.com’s Mark Feinsand.

“Andrew Benintendi is a proven talent at this point in time in his career,” Kansas City general manager Dayton Moore said. “Been a part of playoffs, and he’s a proven winner. Gets on base. He does a lot of things that you need players to do in your lineup if you’re going to win. He fits really well with our current group and in a lot of the things we were able to execute this offseason.”

Benintendi, who was drafted by Boston with the No. 7 overall pick out of the University of Arkansas in the 2015 MLB Draft, has a .273 career batting average over five years in the Majors. In 2018, he helped the Red Sox win the World Series with 16 home runs and 87 RBIs. He racked up 4.5 Wins Above Replacement, according to Baseball-Reference, that season, along with a 123 OPS+. In '17, he finished second in American League Rookie of the Year Award voting behind the Yankees’ Aaron Judge.

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The 26-year-old Benintendi struggled in 2020, hitting .103 with one RBI in the shortened season, which was cut even shorter for the left fielder by a rib cage injury. He played only 14 games and had four hits in 52 plate appearances.

But the Royals are confident that Benintendi can return to form, both from a health perspective and a performance standpoint. Moore said the club had been talking to the Red Sox about Benintendi for a couple months.

“We just believe in the player,” Moore said. “He’s 26 years old, and he’s always performed. He’s performed at every level. We are confident that he’ll be able to get back to his accustomed level. He’s just entering his prime. And we do know from all the information we were able to obtain that he’s worked his tail off this offseason, he’s in great shape, he’s in a great frame of mind and he’s ready to go.”

Moore said he talked to Benintendi on Wednesday night and that the outfielder is excited about the move. Benintendi knows Royals manager Mike Matheny well, as he played with Matheny's son, Tate, in the Red Sox’s farm system.

The Royals have been searching for a left-handed bat all offseason, one that could slot in at third base or in the outfield. Benintendi fills that need, adding another experienced hitter to the lineup as Kansas City's projected starting left fielder. The Royals see Benintendi as a “doubles machine,” Moore said, especially at their home park. Benintendi is a career .485/.564/.848 hitter at Kauffman Stadium, although he has only 39 plate appearances there.

“A lot of people that I’ve spoken to that are familiar with him talk about how he loves Kauffman Stadium,” Moore said. “He loves to hit in Kauffman Stadium. Obviously, it’s a big ballpark, and we think he’s going to be just a doubles machine here. He’s got a chance to really hit for average and wear out those gaps. He’s got a lot of naturalist to his swing. He can go the other way extremely well, he can pull the ball.”

A week before Spring Training is set to begin, the Royals rounded out a busy offseason and further signaled what their goal is for 2021: They want to win.

Kansas City signed outfielder Michael A. Taylor, first baseman Carlos Santana and starter Mike Minor before acquiring Benintendi, all in an offseason heavily focused on adding experience to its roster while addressing specific needs for its offense -- a middle-of-the-order bat (Santana), a left-handed hitter (Benintendi) and high on-base skills (both Santana and Benintendi).

“There’s terrific pitching in our division, and you can’t give at-bats away,” Moore said. “You have to have confidence to hit deep in counts, two strikes, etc. You have to have confidence to take pitches [in] 3-2 [counts] if they’re balls and be able to slow things down a little bit. We needed that element.

“When you look at every championship team, they’ve got two or three players in that lineup that can battle a good pitcher, and then they’ve got two or three guys in that lineup that if the pitcher makes a mistake, they’re going to hurt them. I like how this offense is shaped up, and I like the fact that the guys that we’re going to have in that lineup can also play above-average-to-good defense on a consistent level as well. That’s going to help our pitching.”

The Royals didn’t hesitate to trade away promising youngsters for an everyday player who can help them now. Cordero, 26, has raw power that has yet to translate to consistent results at the Major League level. Lee, 22, was drafted in the third round in 2016, and was added to the 40-man roster this offseason to be protected from the Rule 5 Draft.

Lee's talent is unmistakable, with tools to hit for average and power, as well as on-base skills and plus speed that make him a threat whenever he gets on base. But plate discipline and swing-and-miss tendencies have persisted, causing his development in the farm system to slow.

Benintendi has already proven himself at the Major League level.

“Any time you’re trading young players that can potentially be a part of the future, even though they’re unproven, it’s not the easiest thing to do, because our philosophy relies on young players and growing our own talent,” Moore said. “But we have to utilize some of that young talent that we’ve drafted, signed and developed to acquire talents like Andrew Benintendi. We’re not going to hesitate to do that whenever it makes sense. We were all feeling this was the right move for us, and it certainly makes us a lot better today, and that’s what it’s all about.”