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Scattered thoughts on the Andrew Benintendi trade

It’s underwhelming, but also incomplete.

American League Championship Series Game 4: Boston Red Sox Vs Houston Astros At Minute Maid Park Photo by Barry Chin/The Boston Globe via Getty Images

The Red Sox had been rumored to be shopping Andrew Benintendi in trade talks fairly frequently earlier in the winter, but with camp rapidly approaching and those rumors coming to a halt, it looked like he would indeed at least start the season in Boston. So much for that. The Red Sox traded Benintendi to the Royals late Wednesday night in a three-team deal that also involved the Mets. The full return isn’t yet known because there are players to be named later involved, but right now here’s how things shake out:

Red Sox Get: Franchy Cordero (MLB), LHH, OF; Josh Winckowski (MiLB), RHP, SP, 2 PTBNL from KC, 1 PTBNL from NYM

Royals Get: Andrew Benintendi

Mets Get: Khalil Lee (MiLB), LHH, OF

Here are some scattered thoughts on the deal.

  • I struggled figuring out the best place to start here, but I think I’ll begin with the logic of trading Benintendi in the first place. The idea that this is selling low certainly isn’t crazy, but it’s also not ironclad. For it to sell low, you have to either think they’re selling only based on 2020 value, which they are not because they would have to send a prospect along based on what he did in 2020, or that a bounce-back is certain. A bounce-back is possible, and I’ll get to that in a second, but there’s an argument it’s not super likely. The fact is Benintendi has been average-at-best for two and a half years. In the second half in 2018, he posted a 96 wRC+. In 2019, his wRC+ in the first half was 104 while the second half was 97. Last season, which I’m willing to mostly toss aside for sample size reasons for what it’s worth, he finished with a 44 wRC+. All of this while his athleticism has cratered and he’s really only limited to left field. A league-average bat who can only play left field is simply not a player who must be kept at all costs.
  • That’s not to say you just give him away, either, because baseball players aren’t just year-by-year vacuums. While there is danger in leaning too much on name value, you also can’t toss it aside at a whim. It wasn’t that long ago that Benintendi was the top prospect in baseball and the talent is still there somewhere. Or at least it very well could be. There isn’t a whole lot statistically pointing to a bounce-back, but we’ve seen him succeed in the majors before and we know he has the capabilities of being a plus on-base player. So while the logic from the first bullet point indicates that you don’t make him untouchable, it’s also fair that you don’t just trade him for nothing. We’ll get to the merits of this actual deal in a minute, but I wanted to lay out that there is a legitimate argument for both sides just on Benintendi the player.
  • There’s also the emotional, fan reason to be mad at this deal, which is also a fair one. Benintendi was part of what will likely be the best Red Sox team we’ll ever see. He was one of their highest draft picks ever, and we know there’s something extra fun about watching a homegrown player succeed and stay with the team. If he does turn things around, which again is certainly possible, that will sting. And speaking personally, the 2018 ALCS Game Four catch will forever be one of the greatest sports moments of my life. And I’d also add that Benintendi was drafted the last year I was in Haverhill, which is right near Lowell, so I saw him there a handful of times. I don’t see minor-league games as much as prospect writers so take this for whatever it’s worth, but I’ve never seen a prospect so clearly better than their competition than I saw with Benintendi in Lowell. So all of that, and the fact that the Killer B outfield with him, Mookie Betts and Jackie Bradley Jr. could all be in different uniforms so soon is jarring, to say the least.
New York Yankees v Boston Red Sox Photo by Adam Glanzman/Getty Images
  • As far as the return goes, I talked about that for the most part last night so I won’t rehash it too much here. I will just say for Cordero the ceiling is higher than Benintendi’s at this point, and I think it’s easier to dream on. That’s not necessarily a good thing, though, because it’s largely due to the fact that we haven’t really seen Cordero healthy enough to see him consistently fail or succeed. At 26 years old — the same age as Benintendi — that’s more of a concern than a relief. I’m probably more willing to buy into Benintendi going forward because I’ve seen the hit tool and I’m personally more likely to shy away from a guy with swing and miss concerns, but there are smart people I’ve talked to and seen elsewhere on the interwebs who would go the other way.
  • The players to be named later is a massive part of this deal and makes it pretty much impossible to fully judge at this moment. In most cases, a player to be named later is little more of a throw-in, but considering we are coming off a season with no minor leagues, this is an opportunity to scout players who they haven’t seen in a year. That opens the door for some kind of difference-making prospect. On the other hand, Alex Speier says none of the prospects are expected to be top ten organizationally, which is a bit of a disappointment. I would need one of the PTBNLs to be eclipse Cordero as the centerpiece of the deal for me to really change my mind on the deal, and based on that report it doesn’t seem particularly likely.
  • One of my biggest complaints about this move is the timing, which is a little unfair for reasons I’ll get to in a minute. But one of the reasons I liked the Benintendi trade idea earlier in the winter is because there was a plethora of possible corner outfield replacements. Those are all gone now, and the outfield is kind of a mess right now. So timing this up earlier would have made building the 2021 roster much easier. That said, it also becomes easier to trade Benintendi when the other options are off the board, so this deal very well may not have been there earlier in the winter. Though in that case I probably just sit tight and don’t make any move.
  • I’m not even really sure how the outfield shakes out at this point. After listening to Chaim Bloom last night I’m no more confident they get Jackie Bradley Jr. back, so right now they have a starting outfield of Cordero, Alex Verdugo and Hunter Renfroe. That is, frankly, terrible. I think they might add a Kevin Pillar or make Enrique Hernández a full-time outfielder, which would theoretically allow for a platoon between Renfroe and Cordero in left, but whichever way you slice it there’s not really a scenario where I’m excited about this outfield group.
  • I don’t really have a whole lot to say about Josh Winckowski at this point because a lot of his value seems to be based on reports from Instructs. So I’ll be interested to see him in game action this spring and summer. I will say it’s hard to be excited about a potential pop up pitching prospect given the organization’s lack of success in that department, but at the same time that doesn’t mean you don’t keep trying because you need to develop pitching.
  • One of the narratives floating around this deal is that it’s a salary dump or done with financial interests in mind. I’m typically not one to defend the organization on matters of finance, but I don’t see that argument holding water here. As I said above, there are reasons to criticize this deal and I think I land on the more pessimistic side, but they saved a grand total of $1.4 million here. It’s not a salary dump.
  • With that being said, I still don’t really like what this deal represents, which is another rebuilding move. Bloom said himself that he is getting “long-term” pieces here. At this point it’s hard to argue with that idea, but this obviously goes back a couple of years now when they still had a championship roster. So while I will defend the organization in terms of this not being a salary dump, it’s still indicative of a direction with which I have vehemently disagreed for two years. And again, the PTBNLs could change the tone here a bit, but it doesn’t look like they will be difference makers. A rebuilding move for Benintendi could make sense, but one that is based on quantity over quality is not one I like. Maybe that’s all they could get, but again they didn’t have to trade him. And that’s ultimately where I stand. I’d just do nothing if this was what was on the table.
  • So that brings me to my overall thoughts on the deal, which haven’t really changed much after sleeping on them. I still think it’s not crazy to believe Benintendi is just not that great of a player and is more average than good. I still acknowledge that the PTBNLs are important to the valuation here so we can’t give a full grade here. But I also think Benintendi is more likely to blossom than Cordero, and assuming Speier’s report about the PTBNLs not being top ten organizational prospects is true, none of the prospects would seem to move the needle enough for me to make up for that difference. It’s fair to be higher on Cordero than me, and if you are you likely view this deal in a better light. All that said, it’s not a total F for me, and it’s not impossible the Red Sox end up getting the better end here. But if you were to ask me right now for a simple binary answer to the question: Do you like the trade? I would say no.