The Yankees traded for Andrew Benintendi in July to add contact skills and lefty balance to their lineup. Things didn’t go as planned, in part because Benintendi had a slow start in pinstripes and then got hurt in September. He missed the final 30 games and the postseason, and now he’s about to be a free agent.
So the Yankees have a decision to make and, perhaps, the rest of baseball’s free market to compete against, if they want to retain Benintendi this winter.
Should they? Well, the Yanks got annihilated by the Houston Astros in the ALCS, a series that reiterated that they still need contact skills and lefty balance.
Let’s take a deeper look:
WHY IT WOULD MAKE SENSE TO LET BENINTENDI GO
In some ways, the potential Aaron Judge contract looms over everything the Yankees might do this offseason, and re-signing him could impact whether Benintendi returns. The Yanks need to retain Anthony Rizzo, too. They have money coming off the books with Aroldis Chapman, Zack Britton and others being free agents, but the Judge deal will be a monster and these Yankees don’t spend limitlessly under Hal Steinbrenner.
So do the Yanks pass on Benintendi because they’ve got options in left field and other expenses on the docket? Three players – Oswaldo Cabrera, Giancarlo Stanton and Aaron Hicks started at least two games apiece in left during the postseason. All are under control for 2023.
Benintendi was the 12th-highest paid left fielder in MLB last season at $8.5 million, according to Spotrac.com. He will command a pricier deal than that as a free agent and there was competition on the trade market for him last summer. The Los Angeles Dodgers, Milwaukee Brewers and Toronto Blue Jays were among the teams reportedly interested in him.
Maybe that’s a sign he’ll be in demand this winter, too, which will make the cost go up. And maybe the Yanks don’t want to enter into a multiyear deal with Benintendi, perhaps believing that they can fill left field from their system in the next year or so.
Benintendi left the Sept. 2 game against the Tampa Bay Rays with a right wrist injury and ended up needing surgery, which wiped out the rest of his season, though he was reportedly close to a return when the Yankees were eliminated. The 28-year-old has been on the injured list four times in his career, three times since August of 2020.
WHY IT WOULD MAKE SENSE TO KEEP BENINTENDI
There are many. The Yankees really need hitters who can move the lineup along and he could be the leadoff hitter they don’t seem to possess right now. The Yankees used four different leadoff hitters during the postseason – Judge, Gleyber Torres, Harrison Bader and Rizzo.
But Benintendi could handle the job full-time. He had a .373 on-base percentage in 2022 and has worked to become more of a contact hitter. Between the Kansas City Royals and Yankees, Benintendi batted .304, the ninth-highest average in MLB. He hit .320 in 93 games with Kansas City and .254 in 33 games with the Yanks.
At one point with the Royals, he had a streak of 10 consecutive games reaching base multiple times.
He had the lowest strikeout rate of his career (14.8 percent, nearly eight points lower than the MLB average) and that has to have an impact on a team that whiffed 50 times in 130 at-bats (38.5 percent) while getting swept by the Astros. His walk rate was 10 percent this season, above the 8.2 percent MLB average.
Overall in 2022, Benintendi had a .772 OPS, which tied for fourth among players who were primary left fielders, behind only Kyle Schwarber (.827), Ian Happ (.782) and Steven Kwan (.773). It would be nice to see if his power game could get a jolt from aiming at Yankee Stadium’s right-field porch – he slid to five homers overall last season after notching four seasons with at least 13 earlier in his career.
Benintendi is also a fine fielder. He won a Gold Glove in 2021 with the Royals and was a finalist this season. He has the fourth-most outfield assists in MLB since 2017 and he did not make a single error in 124 games in left in 2021.
If Judge signs elsewhere, Benintendi should be back in pinstripes the next day, as just one of multiple moves to counteract that potential massive loss.
Even if Judge re-signs, the overly righty Yankees should strongly consider bringing Benny back, unless they add to their contact profile via trade or other free agent signings.
Yes, their offense is built on hitting home runs, but they need players who can get on base or make something happen simply by putting the ball in play, too.