In Andrew Benintendi, the White Sox finally got what they always wanted.
“I’ve waited over, I believe, seven and a half years to officially welcome him to the organization,” Rick Hahn said Tuesday night. “So better late than never.”
The White Sox just handed out the richest free-agent contract in club history to a guy they were a pick away from selecting in the 2015 draft. The Red Sox made Benintendi the No. 7 pick that year. The White Sox ended up with Carson Fulmer at No. 8. A little more than a year later, according to former Red Sox boss Dave Dombrowski, the White Sox were asking about Benintendi while crafting the trade that launched the rebuild and made Yoán Moncada and Michael Kopech franchise cornerstones.
Tuesday, the White Sox finally got their man, officially bringing Benintendi to the South Side for the next five seasons on a $75 million deal.
“We obviously made no secret of our affection for him back in the (2015) draft, and things just didn’t line up for us to be able to make him a White Sock coming out of that draft,” Hahn said. “But he’s fulfilled the promise that I’m guessing the Red Sox saw when they took him and what many in our scouting department projected for him back when he was an amateur.
“Andrew certainly fits many of the things we were looking for this offseason in terms of balancing out our lineup and adding a different type of hitter and obviously a dynamic player who’s earned accolades not just for his offense but for his defense, as well, and we think makes us a better, well-rounded ballclub both offensively and defensively. Thrilled we were able to convert on this one.”
Benintendi won’t save the White Sox all by his lonesome and isn’t the type of monster talent that can single-handedly right a ship that drifted way too far off course during the disappointment of a .500 campaign in 2022. But he does fill many of the needs that Hahn laid out for this team at the close of last season. Benintendi does boost the lineup with high-contact and on-base skills, plus he’s a left-handed bat. He dramatically improves, albeit at only one position, a defense that ranked as one of the league’s worst. And he fills a positional need in left field.
What he doesn’t do is solve the White Sox’ power problem.
That appears to be just fine with the White Sox, though, who aren’t paying their richest free-agent acquisition ever to hit home runs. That might strike as rather counterintuitive, especially for a team with self-imposed payroll restrictions, to allocate so much of its money to a player who doesn’t address perhaps its most glaring weakness.
Even in hitting only five homers last season, Benintendi had what bordered on a career year, posting a 120 OPS-plus that ranks second only to the 123 number he put up for the World Series winning Red Sox in 2018.
Hahn & Co. will be ecstatic if Benintendi repeats that level of offensive success – even if it means a miniscule contribution to the GM’s oft-repeated ethos of “ball go far, team go far.”
“Honestly, in the end, if he produces similarly to what he did last year … that’s a real nice shot in the arm for this offense to add that type of player to it,” Hahn said. “If in fact some of those doubles – given those big gaps in Kauffman (Stadium, home of Benintendi’s old employers, the division-rival Royals) that he played with – if some of those doubles wind up leaving the yard, that’s fantastic, too.
“But we know what he’s capable of doing offensively, and if his future performance offensively matches what he’s done in the recent past going forward, that’s just fine.”
Absolutely it is, but it’s a statement that comes with a catch. Because while Benintendi does do everything that Hahn says – diversify the lineup, add a bat with a skill set not represented by the rest of the roster – it’s only truly effective if the rest of the team plays up to its potential. That it didn’t was the reason last season was such a gargantuan disappointment on the South Side.
Benintendi’s lack of power is no big deal if Eloy Jiménez becomes that 30- or 40-homer guy, no big deal if Luis Robert becomes that MVP candidate, no big deal if Andrew Vaughn proves a worthy successor to José Abreu, no big deal if Moncada returns to 2019 form, no big deal if Tim Anderson has a few more opportunities to bat flip, no big deal if Yasmani Grandal stays healthy, no big deal if Oscar Colás is a rookie sensation.
If those things don’t happen? Then this team still has a pretty big need that might just go unaddressed.
Of course, there’s plenty of confidence at 35th and Shields that the White Sox’ power outage won’t last into 2023, not with Pedro Grifol and the new coaching staff in place. It’s a lot of pressure to put on the team’s new field staff, perhaps, to turn around an offense that collectively underachieved last season, a lineup full of 20-homer types that limped to the finish line with Vaughn’s 17 long balls as the high-water mark.
But expect spring training to be full of talk of Grifol and his staff being the team’s biggest and most impactful additions this winter, even though there’s a new record-holder for the franchise’s richest free-agent contract.
“When you talk about power, I think it’s more about accessing the power that these players on the roster have shown in the past,” Hahn said. “There’s always a desire for more pop and more thump throughout a lineup, but I think Andrew helps diversify the ways our offense is capable of beating you on a given day. It’s not just going to be power-based.
“But I think going forward, for a variety of reasons, I think we are going to produce a little better from a power-output standpoint from the guys who have done that in the past.”
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