I wrote in my free agent rankings that I thought Andrew Benintendi would get the biggest contract ever for a player who didn’t hit 10 homers or steal 10 bases in his walk year. I didn’t think it would (*waves hands wildly*) this big The White Sox just gave Benintendi five years and $75 million that breakout season, and while there may still be some offense here to open up a new team, this contract only suggests Chicago will find it.
Benintendi’s 2022 season was a comeback of sorts, but comes with all kinds of caveats. It was his best offensive season since 2018 and only the second time in his career that he was clearly above average as a hitter. He did it without power, walking more and hitting the ball the other way, often sacrificing extra-base potential in favor of soft contact, even on pitches he should be able to drive. He’s a left-midfielder who could probably line up in the middle, but would be a few runs below average if he played there regularly.
He was a 3-WAR player in 2022, which more than justified the contract, but a five-year commitment implies he’ll retain all or most of that value for at least the next four years, and I’m not sure I see that. Benintendi’s performance in 2022 was largely due to an increase in his BABIP while in Kansas City, where he had a .366 BABIP, and it dropped to .303 (.324 career, including 2022) after he was traded to the New York in York. He did show a bit more double-double power after the trade, so that eased his offensive decline, but the ball data doesn’t point to that continuing.
It’s a bet the White Sox can figure out something his last two employers, at least, haven’t. That’s easier said than done, but making this contract work for Chicago is essential. Worst case scenario is he’s a .305 BABIP guy who makes weak contact and posts a 104 wRC+ because he walks a lot and he plays solid defense in left and he’s worth 1.8 WAR and the deal is no not a victory. nor disaster. I don’t think Benintendi will be a hit until the final year of his contract, but it’s more likely he’ll be reliably mediocre and thus could leave the White Sox unwilling to move away from him when trading him is the best option. Three years and the same AAV would limit their downside risk while giving them a chance to grab some upside if they help him improve his contact quality. Five years increases their risk of relegation so much that it seems like too much.
The White Sox essentially traded Benintendi for Jose Abreu, though the trade also moves Andrew Vaughn from left field, where he made Ryan Klesko look like a Gold Glover, to first base. That probably still leaves the White Sox marginally worse, even if we assume Abreu and Benintendi repeat what they did last year, or, as I believe, some decline in 2023.
They’ll see improvement from a full season of Eloy Jimenez and should get more from Lucas Giolito in 2023, but that’s not enough to make this team a potential wild card contender. It still has a huge void at second base and could use an upgrade at designated hitter, or at least platoon mate Gavin Sheets, and the free agent market offers neither. I’m not sure where they go from if they want to get back to the playoffs next season, though I can short change the significant improvement they’ve made with the change in managers.
• The Blue Jays needed some length in their rotation, someone who would only provide league average innings, or even a touch below league average, with Hyun-Jin Ryu coming off a six-start season and Yusei Kikuchi and Jose Berrios 5+ eras. Chris Bassitt fits that bill. he’s a pretty productive starter who should eat up innings as long as he’s healthy, smothering the ball for quick outs and generally keeping the walks low. He’s only pitched enough for the ERA title twice, including 2022, though he would have done so in 2021 had the returner not been hit in the face.
I’d like him more if he had a little better possession and control given the lack of true outfield, but I like Bassitt’s fit in Toronto, even though the AAV is $21 million (three years, $63 million, you do the math ) probably rates him as a more durable pitcher than he has been. It’s good to see someone with a career like that, only becoming a bona fide big league starter at age 30 and then coming back from a life-threatening injury in 2021, getting paid like that.
(Top photo by Denny Medley / USA Today)