When the Kansas City Royals acquired left fielder Andrew Benintendi back in February, the organization was reeling from the end of the illustrious Alex Gordon era and needed someone to fill that void. Whether that thrust unrealistic expectations upon the former Boston Red Sox outfielder is neither here nor there and regardless, Benintendi was coming off a terrible 14 games in 2020 and needed a fresh start. He got that in Kansas City.
The first year of the Benintendi experiment was a mixed bag for the Royals, both in the field and at the plate. While there were moments filled with greatness that make a potential contract extension interesting, there were others that failed to instill confidence that the 27-year-old should be the club's long-term left fielder. Let's take a closer look at Benintendi's 2021 campaign and what it means for 2022.
At the plate
This year was a tale of a few different seasons within one for Benintendi, as he struggled immensely coming out of the gate but then from May 1 until he began missing due to injury after a June 13 game, he posted a .317/.358/.496 line. The up-and-down nature of his 2021 continued upon his return, as Benintendi's OPS over those 47 games was a measly .605. If it wasn't one thing for him, though, it was another. A shoulder injury bothered him for almost all of August.
While selective beginning and endpoints tell far from the whole story, much of Benintendi's final month was nothing short of insane. In his last 27 games, he clobbered five home runs and drove in 28 runs while hitting .371 with a video game-like .608 SLG. The hot streak completely turned his season from below-average to ever-so-slightly above-average.
If you're reading this, you're probably thinking that there's too much going on here in regards to sample sizes. You'd be right. It was a rollercoaster of a year for Benintendi, but his overall numbers — 2.4 WAR, a .276/.324/.442 line, .766 OPS, 17 home runs and a wRC+ of 106 — paint a fairly accurate picture. As a hitter, Benintendi has been a little bit above league average for his career. Despite the injuries and inconsistency, that's what he was in 2021.
In the field
Much was made of Benintendi's defense this season, as one outlet went as far as calling him the best defensive left fielder in all of baseball on the year. He was very poor in 2019 by Outs Above Average standards, recording a negative 10. He rebounded to be a plus-one last season, then replicated that production this year. Baseball-Reference had him at 0.3 dWAR in 2021, and FanGraphs' UZR ranked Benintendi as the second-best among qualified left fielders. As you can tell, there's a wide range of outcomes when it comes to grading his defense.
The answer? Probably much like his offense — just a bit better than the average player. There's value in that, though. Benintendi made his fair share of highlight plays this season, and he also had some moments where he struggled. That seemed to be the theme of his 2021, whether it was in the outfield or in the batter's box. He's no Gordon, and not even close, but he can still adequately hold his own in left field at Kauffman Stadium. That's easier said than done.
Benintendi's projected salary, courtesy of MLB Trade Rumors, is $9.3 million. Per FanGraphs' data, his 2021 campaign was worth $17M. Outside of his rookie season and last year's shortened trainwreck, he was worth $16.3M in 2017, $35M in 2018 and $16M in 2019. He's slated to hit the free agent market a year from now and could possibly command somewhere in the neighborhood of $15M per year, especially if he can put together a consistently good 2022.
With that being said, should the Royals extend Benintendi now? My answer as recent as a month ago was a definitive "no," but I could be talked into getting on board with that idea if the price is right. Benintendi is either currently in or just entering his athletic prime and was a productive player in 2021 despite battling injuries and inconsistency all year long. If the Royals wait for him to have a more streamlined season next year, they may find themselves in a bidding war with other teams in the event he hits free agency.
On a team that is likely to have several moving pieces in 2022, Benintendi should be a constant. There's nothing wrong with being a slightly above-average player, especially given the organization's lack of top-shelf outfield talent. It remains to be seen how long Benintendi will remain a Royal but if his close to 2021 was any indication, he could prove to be fairly valuable moving forward.