Andrew Benintendi’s Skill Set Is a Good Fit for the White Sox
Andrew Benintendi presents as a good table-setter option for the White Sox. Signed by Chicago’s American League entry on Friday, the no. 17 player on our 2023 Top 50 Free Agent rankings is a good fit for an underachieving team that could use better on-base percentages near the top of its lineup. While batting average-heavy Tim Anderson will presumably remain the leadoff hitter — this despite a career 3.6% walk rate and .316 OPB — someone who can consistently get on base in front of the thumpers can only help.
Benintendi had a better 2022 season than a lot of people realize. In 521 plate appearances split between the Kansas City Royals and the New York Yankees, the left-handed-hitting outfielder logged a 122 WRC+ — this despite a .399 SLG and only five home runs — which was a mere point lower than his career high. Matching that wRC+, as well as his .373 OBP, would be worth the reported five-year, $75 million deal.
Benintendi will turn 29 next July, so there is a real possibility that his best years are ahead of him. Cecil Cooper presents as a best-case comp. Through age 28, Cooper — a left-handed-hitting first baseman who established himself in Boston before playing two seasons in Milwaukee — had 73 home runs and a 116 wRC+ (Benintendi currently has 73 home runs and a 109 wRC+.) From age 29 through age 33, Cooper put up a 141 wRC+ with 123 home runs.
Ben Clemens mentioned a more current player when profiling Benintendi for our free agent rankings. My colleague wrote: “If you’re a glass half full type, Benintendi is an on-base machine, a younger version of Brandon Nimmo.” Himself a free agent until re-resigning recently with the Mets, Nimmo has a .385 OPS over the course of his career, while Benintendi is at .351 and just logged his aforementioned .373 career high. Reaching Nimmo’s standards might be a tall order, but Ben’s primary point is valid: At his best, Benintendi is a valuable hitter near the top of any team’s lineup. While Nimmo is clearly the better player, he is also getting $162 million for eight years; Benintendi’s deal, despite being the most lucrative in franchise history, is far more team friendly.
That this year’s .304 batting average — like his OBP, a career high — was accompanied by a .352 BABIP is a potential red flag. His average exit velocity ranked in the 53rd percentile, and while Benintendi is by no means a banjo hitter, he also wasn’t ripping the cover off the ball. His xBA was a pedestrian .273.
A willingness to walk, and an aversion to going down by way of the strikeout, are plusses. Benintendi’s 14.8% strikeout rate ranked 22nd best out of 130 qualified hitters, and his 10% walk rate was higher than that of Luis Arraez and Steven Kwan, well-regarded left-handed hitters with similar power profiles. Defensively, Benintendi is more similar to Kwan, and not just because they are outfielders and Arraez is an infielder. The reigning American League batting champion is more Jeff Kent than Bill Mazeroski on the defensive side of the ball, while the third-place finisher in this year’s Rookie of the Year balloting was awarded a Gold Glove. And while Benintendi’s defensive game has slipped somewhat in recent years — at least according to the metrics — he did win a Gold Glove of his own in 2021 (and, as Red Sox fans fondly remember, made a game-saving, diving catch to end Game 3 of the 2018 World Series). He’s by no means a liability at the position. Moreover, White Sox left fielders ranked second from the bottom in DRS at that position in the junior circuit — only the Seattle Mariners were worse — so Benintendi represents a clear upgrade.
The aforementioned red flag suggests another theoretical comp is in order, this one of the worst-case variety. In December 2012, the White Sox signed Jeff Keppinger to a free agent contract, this following a season where the 32-year-old contact-oriented infielder batted a BABIP-aided .325 with a 128 wRC+ with the Tampa Bay Rays. Keppinger proceeded to bomb on the South Side, putting up a 62 wRC+, then fade into oblivion. There is little reason to believe that Benintendi will follow a similar path — he’s both younger and better than Keppinger — but at the same time, it’s even less likely that he’ll go on to have Cooper’s career (Scott Cooper, perhaps, but not Cecil’s).
In terms of expected performance with the bat, a member of the 2005 World Series champion White Sox presents as a statistical comp for Bentinendi. In December 2004, 28-year-old Scott Podsednik was acquired via trade and proceeded to slash .290/.351/.349 in his first season in a Chicago uniform. A left-handed-hitting left fielder with not dissimilar defensive skills, Podsednik differs from Benintendi in that he was a base-stealer (albeit not a particularly efficient one) and had even less power. Even so, it is easy to imagine Benintendi batting .290 with a .351 OBP while hitting near the top of the White Sox order.
One other comp worth bringing up is Masataka Yoshida, whom the Red Sox just signed to a five-year, $90 million contract. Yoshida has put up better numbers over the course of his career, but that’s been in NPB. Even so, there is a similar contact-oriented left-handed stroke that comes with a discerning eye and occasional pop — more in Yoshida’s case, but again, that’s versus NPB pitching and not MLB arms.
Would the Red Sox have been better served by bringing back their former left fielder, once a part of the Benintendi/Betts/Bradley triumvirate, for five years and $75 million, versus the five years and $90 million they’re giving to a player who is one year older and has built his bona fides on another continent? That’s obviously a moot point. Benintendi is going to the White Sox, where he promises to be a value-add for a team that will benefit from his skill set. As for how many more offseason moves are needed — José Abreu’s power will ideally be replaced — and whether the current roster is half full or half empty? Only time will tell.
Podesdnik once provided a needed boost to a team coming off an 83-win season, and a World Series ring was his reward. Benintendi adding to the one he earned four years ago in Boston is what the White Sox — a team coming off of a less-than-their-talent suggested 81-win season — are hoping for, regardless of whom Benintendi comps to.