The White Sox are in agreement with free-agent left fielder Andrew Benintendi on a five-year, $75 million contract, pending a physical, a source briefed on the matter tells The Athletic’s Ken Rosenthal. Here’s what you need to know:
- Benintendi made his first All-Star appearance last season, hitting .304/.373/.399 in 126 with the Royals and Yankees.
- After being dealt to New York, Benintendi had a season-ending surgery on a broken hamate bone in his right wrist.
- This contract surpasses Yasmani Grandal’s four-year, $73 million deal for the largest White Sox free-agent signing in franchise history.
The pre-existing White Sox connections to Benintendi are seemingly limitless. Most immediately, new manager Pedro Grifol was Benintendi’s bench coach for the bulk of the past two seasons in Kansas City, during which time new field coordinator Mike Tosar and new third base coach Eddie Rodríguez were also part of the Royals organization. White Sox hitting coordinator Andy Barkett was the assistant hitting coach for the Red Sox in 2018 and 2019 – the former of which being when Benintendi had a career year and Boston won the World Series – and has worked with the left fielder extensively in the past.
Beyond that, the White Sox have admired Benintendi since before he was drafted one spot ahead of their pick in 2015, and wanted him to be part of the four-player prospect haul they received from the Red Sox in exchange for Chris Sale after the 2016 season. The White Sox have been ready and willing to believe in Benintendi for a minute now.
Why did the White Sox make this move?
Beyond the thrill of finally getting together with a long-time crush, Benintendi addresses a lot of needs at once. As mentioned, he’s left-handed and has mashed right-handed pitching for pretty much his whole career (.286/.358/.451), while the Sox offense has been criticized for being overly right-handed and struggling against right-handed pitching for three years running.
After relying a lot on Andrew Vaughn (naturally a first baseman) and an oft-injured Eloy Jiménez in left field the last couple of years, the White Sox have openly spoken about improving their defense just by having fielders in positions where they’re comfortable. A Gold Glove winner in 2021 and above-average again in left field in 2022 according to Statcast, Benintendi should be plenty comfortable in Guaranteed Rate Field’s rather small outfield.
And as much as Benintendi’s last few years and patches of struggle have been defined by rib cage and oblique strains, and now a broken hamate, 2022 was his fifth career season of 125 games played or more. That record of health looks pretty sterling compared to what the White Sox have endured the past two seasons.
Why could this work?
When Benintendi was struggling at the tail end of his Red Sox tenure, beyond just being banged up, he was swinging through fastballs at an alarming rate. Whether it was being healthy, or some adjustments he made in his swing finish to better control his bat path, both Benintendi’s swing-and-miss rate on heaters and his overall strikeout rate slid safely back under 20 percent in each of the past two seasons. The correction has turned Benintendi into a consistent high-average hitter with a disciplined approach, while putting the ball in play.
Benintendi’s .289/.348/.421 (113 wRC+) production the past two seasons, accompanied by good left field defense, is more fitting of a solid regular than a superstar or former No. 1 overall prospect. But because of his former top prospect status, Benintendi reached the majors quickly and hit the free agent market at age 28, so the White Sox have to think about physical decline a little less than typical for a new signing. After AJ Pollock’s production cratered for them in his age-34 season last year, that will be a welcome change.
Where’s the risk?
Benintendi has never been an exit velocity darling, and he certainly didn’t change his ways and show a ton more pop in 2022. While last season was arguably his best offensive performance just because of how much he got on base, power was supposed to be a significant part of Benintendi’s game as a prospect. Even accounting for the MLB ball changing and a contact-oriented approach in a spacious home stadium, Benintendi’s five home runs in 2022 were a full-season career low by a great deal.
Spend enough time on his Statcast page and you can talk yourself into how Benintendi could have had 10 homers in 2022 with cozier surroundings and a few timely gusts of wind. Guaranteed Rate Field is a wonderful park to hit pull-side homers as a left-handed hitter, but anything beyond average power has been missing from Benintendi’s profile pretty much since reaching the majors. As a left fielder, that limits his upside short of star-level, and makes him fairly subject to the whims of batting average on balls in play. At least he can’t be heavily shifted anymore.
(Photo: Jeff Curry / USA Today)