RED SOX INSIDER

Tomase: The time has come for Sox to trade Benintendi

RED SOX INSIDER

The argument against trading Andrew Benintendi basically boils down to this: don't sell low.

But perhaps we should be taking the opposite approach: what if trading him now is actually selling high?

That sounds insane, given Benintendi's miserable 2020, which featured a grand total of four hits. But the fact that Benintendi only recorded 39 at-bats may actually help explain why the club is reportedly shopping the left fielder aggressively.

After such a worthless, meaningless, injury-riddled season, a case can be made that Benintendi represents a depressed asset with potential. No one worth their analytical salt draws conclusions off a sample size of 52 plate appearances.

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What matters more is his age (26), his pedigree (7th overall pick), and his past success (.290-20-90 in 2017, pivotal role in a World Series title a year later). There's a lot to suggest that even though he has regressed considerably since the 2018 All-Star break, he still possesses the tools to become an above-average player. It's possible that buried somewhere deep, there still lurks an All-Star.

There's value in that potential, especially with Benintendi signed for $6.6 million and then arbitration-eligible in 2022. A club that believes it can restore the all-fields, line-drive approach that helped him reach the big leagues barely a year after being drafted should get the Red Sox on the phone, especially since chief baseball officer Chaim Bloom has made it clear he will listen on anyone.

 

Engaging on Benintendi isn't about simple due diligence, however. It should be a priority, and here's why.

Imagine keeping Benintendi with the hope that he plays well, establishes value, and becomes a trade chip at the deadline. That's a safe approach, but it has the potential to backfire spectacularly, because clubs willing to write off 2020 as an injury-riddled aberration will be far less interested in the left fielder if his struggles continue into 2021.

At that point, there would be more than two years of evidence that he's no longer the potential star everyone envisioned in 2016.

Power Outage

Andrew Benintendi's AB/HR through the 2018 All-Star Break (38 HR in 283 games).
27.7
Andrew Benintendi's AB/HR since the 2018 All-Star Break (15 HR in 223 games).
57.7

That's a problem, because when contenders acquire talent in July, it's to plug directly into their lineups. If Benintendi continues striking out in 33 percent of his plate appearances while looking sluggish on the bases and lost in the box, the Red Sox will have officially missed their window to maximize his value.

The time to swing a deal is now, and I suspect that Bloom knows it. For all the talk of Alex Verdugo sliding to center field to make room for new corner outfielder Hunter Renfroe, let's be real. The Red Sox envision Verdugo and Renfroe on the corners and perhaps a reunion with Jackie Bradley Jr. or the arrival of prospect Jarren Duran in center.

That makes Benintendi the odd man out, which is exactly what he should be. As the Red Sox look to upgrade their offense, left field is every bit as glaring a trouble spot as second base. Since 2019, Benintendi ranks 35th among left fielders with at least 50 games in OPS (.751) and 41st in home runs (13).

A player who once effortlessly lashed outside fastballs into the left field corner now seems afflicted with a hopeless case of strike zone dyslexia. His K percentage more than doubled between 2018 (16 percent) and 2020 (32.7 percent), while his power numbers have cratered -- he launched 14 homers in the first half of 2018, and he has managed just 15 in over 200 games since.

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Anyone acquiring him now believes it can unlock the talent that allowed him to homer in his first postseason at-bat in 2016 before finishing second in the Rookie of the Year voting a year later. It sees him not as a lost cause, but a reclamation project.

In that sense, Benintendi remains a blank slate. Bloom should exploit the possibility of what he might be before the left fielder erases any doubt.