Detroit Tigers Trade Target: Andrew Benintendi

BOSTON, MA - JULY 8: Andrew Benintendi of the Boston Red Sox reacts during a summer camp workout. (Photo by Billie Weiss/Boston Red Sox/Getty Images)
BOSTON, MA - JULY 8: Andrew Benintendi of the Boston Red Sox reacts during a summer camp workout. (Photo by Billie Weiss/Boston Red Sox/Getty Images) /

Boston Red Sox outfielder Andrew Benintendi is on the trade block.

The Boston Red Sox are retooling, so it didn’t come as a huge surprise when Jim Bowden of The Athletic reported they were open to trading Andrew Benintendi:

The Detroit Tigers just signed Robbie Grossman to be one of their corner outfielders for the next two seasons, but should they make a run at Andrew Benintendi too? Let’s take a deeper look.

Who is Andrew Benintendi?

A native of Cincinnati, Andrew Benintendi was a well-regarded prospect out of high school (ranked 486th in Baseball America’s top 500 draft prospects for 2013), but questions about his power projection and signability led him to join the Arkansas Razorbacks. He had a solid freshman year in Fayetteville, hitting .276 with 17 steals and more walks than strikeouts, but the concerns about his power seemed to be well founded, as he slugged just .333. Few could have predicted what happened the next year.

Andrew Benintendi demolished college baseball in 2015, hitting .376/.488/.717 with 20 home runs, 24 steals in 28 tries, and 50 walks against just 32 strikeouts in 65 games. A draft-eligible sophomore, Benintendi began the season as a relative unknown, but by the end of the year he was the Golden Spikes Award winner and was taken by the Boston Red Sox with the 7th overall pick in the MLB Draft.

Benintendi’s climb to the majors was nearly as swift. He played 54 pro games in 2015, hitting .313 with 11 home runs and 10 stolen bases. He began 2016 in High-A Salem, but after hitting .341 through his first 34 games Boston moved him up to Double-A Portland. Benintendi continued to rake for the Sea Dogs, and after batting .295/.357/.515 over 63 games he got the call to the Red Sox.

Andrew Benintendi made his MLB debut as a pinch hitter on August 2, 2016, making him the fourth member of the 2015 draft class to reach the bigs. He secured his first career hit the next night, and Detroit Tigers fans may remember his first big-league homer:

Benintendi entered 2017 as the #1 prospect in all of baseball to both Baseball America and MLB Pipeline, and he was the heavy favorite to win Rookie of the Year. Aaron Judge made sure that didn’t happen, but Benintendi still had a strong rookie campaign, batting .271 with 20 home runs and 20 stolen bases.

The 2018 season was Benintendi’s best as a pro, as he hit .290/.366/.465, put up 4+ WAR to both FanGraphs and Baseball Reference, and made solid contributions to Boston’s World Series run. Benintendi regressed a bit in 2019, hitting .266 with 13 home runs and an increased strikeout rate, though he was still worth about 2 WAR. But 2020 was a disaster for him, as he hit just .103 through 14 games before a strained rib cage ended his season.

Andrew Benintendi Scouting Report

The final scouting report for Andrew Benintendi at FanGraphs gives him a 70-grade hit tool, 55 grades for his power, speed, and defense, and a 50-grade arm, for an overall future vale of 65. That translates to the sort of player who makes All-Star teams just about every year and occasionally lands in the top-10 among all position players in WAR.

Benintendi doesn’t turn 27 until next July, but it doesn’t look like he’s going to reach that ceiling. From 2017-2019 Andrew Benintendi produced a wRC+ of 108 — meaning he was about 8% better on offense than an average hitter. Among outfielders that ranked him 49th out of 102 qualified hitters.

His Statcast numbers aren’t terribly encouraging, either. His sprint speed has declined each season, to the point where he may now be a fringe-average runner. His advanced defensive numbers are a bit wonky from playing left field in Fenway Park, but after ranking among the best left fielders in Defensive Runs Saved in 2017 and 2018, he was among the worst in 2019. And his home run, exit velocity, hard-hit, and barrel numbers are all roughly average.

The Cost of Andrew Benintendi

Andrew Benintendi now looks like a pretty average player, with the exception of above-average bat-to-ball and on-base skills. So what exactly is that worth?

The Red Sox signed Benintendi to a 2-year, $10-million deal before the 2020 season, and he now has two years of team control left. He’ll make $5 million in 2021, and then whatever he can earn in arbitration before 2022 — probably something in the neighborhood of $6-8 million.

ZiPS projects Benintendi to produce 4.3 WAR over the next two seasons, which equates to about $35 million in production. If we subtract his salary, we’re left with roughly $20-25 million in surplus value.

For what it’s worth, the site Baseball Trade Values doesn’t think Benintendi is worth much — they consider him roughly as valuable as Tigers outfield prospect Parker Meadows. Given the relative ease of finding an outfielder, and Benintendi’s seeming decline, their valuation may be a better reflection of the market than my surplus value numbers.

In any event, as Bowden noted, the Red Sox appear to be looking for pitching and outfield prospects, and it seems unlikely they’d settle for Meadows, a 21-year-old outfielder with tools who posted a .607 OPS in Low-A in 2019.

But something like this might work:

Would this make sense for the Detroit Tigers? No, not really. Teams should always try to get better, of course, and Benintendi would almost certainly be an upgrade over JaCoby Jones or Victor Reyes.

But the Tigers aren’t one Andrew Benintendi away from competing. And unless they plan on making some big splashes in free agency, or think they can squeeze a great season out of Benintendi and then flip him for more, this trade wouldn’t get Detroit any closer to where they want to be.