Perfect fit: Sox finally land their whale in Benintendi

January 4th, 2023

CHICAGO -- The White Sox were prepared to select with the eighth pick of the 2015 MLB Draft, only to have the outfielder go to the Red Sox at No. 7.

On two occasions since, the team tried to acquire Benintendi via trade. So, when White Sox manager Pedro Grifol presented Benintendi with his No. 23 jersey during a Wednesday press conference at Guaranteed Rate Field, it seemed to be the fulfillment of an inevitable arrival.

“It’s fun to be part of something where you’re desired, where you’re wanted,” said Benintendi during the press conference. “I’m looking forward to getting to know some guys, build relationships and get this thing going.

“From Day 1 in the offseason, there was communication. There was constant interest throughout the entire process. I was talking about it with Petey [Grifol], [general manager] Rick [Hahn] and the rest of the front office. It’s good to be with a team that wanted me from Day 1.”

Benintendi’s skillset fits perfectly with the needs of a White Sox team looking to push aside a disappointing 81-81 showing from 2022 and get back to the 93-win American League Central title performance of ’21. He’s a left-handed hitter in what has been a right-handed dominant lineup, as well as an offensive presence capable of consistently working plate appearances.

An AL Gold Glove winner in 2021 with the Royals, Benintendi will take over left field for the White Sox, with moving primarily to designated hitter. Grifol has talked to Jiménez about the change, while also advising him to continue working in the outfield, including right field.

“In true professional manner, Eloy is like, 'Whatever is best for this ballclub and whatever helps us win baseball games,'” Grifol said.

Benintendi is also up for a new challenge.

“Taking better routes, getting quicker jumps is something I’ve focused on the last two years, especially playing in a bigger outfield at Kauffman,” he said of his defense. “It’s something you don’t appreciate when you’re younger. You go out there only worried about your at-bats, and sometimes you take your at-bats into left field or where you’re playing. It’s something I’ve taken a lot more ownership of and more pride.”

Benintendi's five-year, $75 million deal gives him the largest guaranteed contract in franchise history, checking in slightly above the $73 million earned by catcher  over four years. For a self-described “mellow dude,” the 28-year-old Benintendi doesn’t think much about that distinction. 

“That’s why it’s almost an uncomfortable conversation to have,” Benintendi said. “I’m very grateful but for me it’s like, I’m not a material guy or whatever it is. It’s nice to have. My job is to show up and play and win baseball games. It’s the same whether I’m the highest number or the lowest number, it doesn’t matter to me. It’s all about winning games and getting out there and helping the team any way I can.

“Definitely excited to be here. It’s humbling to know that, but now, I’m ready to kick things off.”

The bond between Grifol and Benintendi was evident as they sat next to each other during the press conference. During parts of two seasons that Benintendi was with the Royals, Grifol served as then-manager Mike Matheny’s bench coach.

The connection runs deeply enough that Grifol was thinking about Benintendi as part of the White Sox during his first managerial interview in October, a story Grifol shared on Wednesday.

“I identified Benny as a great fit for our ballclub, but I didn’t mention his name that particular day,” Grifol said. “It wasn’t until the second interview with [executive vice president] Kenny [Williams] and Rick that one of them said, ‘What are your thoughts on Andrew Benintendi?’

“And I’m like, ‘OK, you mentioned it, not me, so let me talk about him. He fits perfectly on this ballclub, he fits perfectly in this park.' He’s exactly what we were looking for in this offseason.”

It’s a perfect fit the White Sox finally achieved eight years after their first attempt.

“I'm most familiar with this just because playing against them the last two years, 19 times,” Benintendi said. “The bullpen arms and the starters, it's crazy. It's not fun to face them, never is.

“Glad I don't have to face them anymore. The talent's insane, so I'm definitely excited to be a part of that.”