There’s no doubt that the Red Sox are making Andrew Benintendi available in potential trades. The likelihood that they will deal him, and what they might seek in return, are less clear.
Executives of three teams that have discussed the 26-year-old outfielder with the Red Sox came away with three different impressions. One thought the Sox were merely gauging his value without necessarily being committed to dealing him; one thought the Red Sox were actively looking to trade him; and one thought discussions fell somewhere in between.
Regardless of where things fall, however, the Red Sox are active in discussions with several teams. The Athletic reported that the Marlins have engaged the Sox, but suggested the sides weren’t lining up. Boston Sports Journal quoted an industry source who believed a deal with Miami was “not happening,” but cited the Rangers, Astros, and Athletics as teams that have checked in.
Front offices around baseball have found it challenging to define Benintendi’s value. While his 2020 season was dreadful — a .103 average, .314 on-base percentage, and .128 slugging mark in 14 games before a season-ending rib injury — many are willing to look beyond that, given that several hitters around the game struggled badly after the short summer training camp.
Even so, evaluators still find it necessary to make sense of Benintendi’s 2019 campaign, in which he hit .266/.343/.431 with 13 homers, 10 steals, and a 22.8 percent strikeout rate, a fall from the .290/.366/.465 line with 16 homers, 21 steals, and a 16.0 percent strikeout rate in 2018.
That said, between a tough start to the 2019 season (exacerbated by a succession of foul balls off his right leg) and a tough end (exacerbated by an oblique injury), he hit .286/.362/.476 over a 117-game stretch from late April to late August. Benintendi also saw upticks in both his exit velocity and frequency of hard contact that season.
The span of possibilities for Benintendi is something of a mystery throughout the industry, including to the Red Sox — which certainly would constrain his trade value. Multiple rival evaluators expressed surprise that the Red Sox would be exploring deals at a time when his value is at a low point.
Still, Benintendi is young enough — and not so far removed from excellence — to believe in the possibility of a bounce-back. His $6.4 million salary, the second year of a two-year, $10 million deal, remains relatively affordable, and he has two years of team control before becoming eligible for free agency after the 2022 season.
One team has discussed trading big-league pitching depth for Benintendi. It’s certainly possible that the Sox, who have been candid about the need to upgrade their rotation, would trade for starting pitching rather than acquiring it through free agency, where the pitching market has been more active and expensive than the market for position players.
In that scenario, the Sox could deal Benintendi for pitching, then perhaps sign a free agent corner outfielder — Marcell Ozuna, Michael Brantley, and Joc Pederson all remain available — in addition to looking for a center fielder.
In conversations with other teams, the Sox have shown a willingness, should they trade Benintendi, to consider pitchers or position players, major league-ready talent or players who are further away, or to explore expanded trades.
Certainly, the Sox could determine that Benintendi’s upside over the next two years is more valuable than anything they’re offered on the trade market. But it shouldn’t come as a surprise if he is dealt — a reality that is, in its own right, startling given his place as an organizational building block in 2018.