When the Yankees traded for Andrew Benintendi at the 2022 deadline, the general consensus was that he was a pure rental and that the team would look in another direction to fill left field in 2023 and beyond.
Much has changed since that time, however. At that point, Aaron Hicks was in the midst of a midsummer hot stretch, as he slashed .260/.383/.418 across June and July; while a far cry from his 2017-20 peak, that offensive production, combined with his above-average defense in left field, offered brief hope that Hicks could hold down the fort until Estevan Florial, Everson Pereira, or Jasson Domínguez seized the job.
Fast-forward a few months, and the situation has changed. Hicks is no longer seen as a viable option, and indeed, all reports indicate that the team is looking to move him this winter. At this point, there are currently no real short-term solutions within the organization, either. Giancarlo Stanton’s leg injuries mean that the team will almost certainly play him almost exclusively as the designated hitter going forward, and when he does play the field, it will be within the smaller confines of Yankee Stadium’s short porch in right. And while I love Oswaldo Cabrera as a player and acknowledge that he certainly showed more ability in the outfield than anyone could have expected out of a rookie with just four minor league games outside the infield, his defensive versatility would be wasted if he was used as the starting right fielder instead of as, say, the starting Ben Zobrist.
Suddenly, the path to a Benintendi reunion seems much more plausible, and it’s not as though he was a slouch when he was on the field for New York in 2022.
Although a freak injury cut short his time in the Bronx just as he was finding his stroke at the plate, Yankees fans surely remember his five seasons with the Red Sox, in which he slashed .273/.353/.436 (a 107 OPS+) while providing serviceable defense in left. After he was traded to the Royals in wake of an injury-filled and extremely disappointing 2020 season (just a 42 wRC+ in 14 games), Benintendi reminded everyone why he was a top prospect, posting a 114 wRC+ and accruing 3.8 fWAR (ranking 20th and 24th among qualifying outfielders, respectively) in Kansas City before being shipped to the Yankees on July 27th this year. An early August slump and an injury-shortened September should not outweigh his pedigree — and remember, he does not turn 28 until next July.
Over the summer, Benintendi was arguably the perfect Yankees trade target not named Juan Soto, and honestly, the only thing that has changed in the meantime is that he’s arguably their most logical free agent target not named Aaron Judge. He’s a left-handed hitter who gets on base, is capable of both leading off (a spot in the lineup the Yankees struggled to fill last year when DJ LeMahieu wasn’t fully healthy) and slotting into the middle of the order behind the team’s big bats, and won a Gold Glove as recently as last year.
At the absolute minimum, Benintendi has to be considered as potential Judge insurance should the big guy depart in free agency. Indeed, just yesterday, GM Brian Cashman said that the Yankees “would love” to re-sign him.
While there is no way that Benintendi ought to be the team’s biggest free agent acquisition of the winter, bringing him back into the fold would be a serviceable move that raises the team’s floor. He might not generate a ton of buzz, but he’s a good bet to be a solid player.