With Aaron Judge and Giancarlo Stanton, the Yankees have quite a solid foundation to build upon their outfield. Thanks to them — and to Aaron Hicks’ and Matt Carpenter’s recent resurgences — their outfielders lead the league in fWAR (10.2), wRC+ (131), homers (90), barrel percentage (16.6), and hard-hit percentage (48.5). Even so, behind the two giants are a number of question marks. Hicks has been hot lately, but had a .621 OPS as recently as June 28th. Carpenter has been electric, but until this season, had not played the outfield at all since an all-too-brief cameo in 2014. And then there’s Joey Gallo, who seems like a nice guy, and that’s all I’m going to say about him.
Due to this uncertainty, the Yankees could use another outfielder, and while they would probably prefer somebody who could man center field, Judge’s ability to play there on a daily basis gives Brian Cashman the flexibility to add a corner outfielder instead. One of the best corner outfielders who will be available this month is Kansas City left fielder and 2022 All-Star Andrew Benintendi.
Yankees fans should remember the 28-year-old, who was selected by the Boston Red Sox in the first round of the 2015 draft and spent the first five seasons of his career in Beantown, winning a championship in 2018 before being traded to the Royals after a disastrous 2020 campaign. Over the last year and a half, Benintendi has reminded fans why he was once MLB’s top prospect prior to the 2017 season. He’s been slashing .292/.349/.426 since the start of 2021 (a 114 wRC+) with 20 home runs and 110 runs batted in; his 3.7 fWAR ranks 22nd among outfielders.
In many ways, Benintendi’s bat is the perfect fit for the Yankees. Although he does not barrel the ball all that much — his 4.4-percent barrel rate ranks in the 16th percentile — thanks to a low strikeout rate (14 percent, the 89th percentile) and high walk rate (10.2 percent, 68th percentile), he gets on base a ton. To wit, his .317 batting average and .386 on-base percentage would each be second-highest on the Yankees, trailing only the absurdly hot Carpenter. The low barrel rate is a touch concerning, but Benintendi’s Statcast profile is still fine as a whole — very good in some spots and about average in others:
By FanGraphs measures, Benintendi has come into his own defensively in left, as his 9 Defensive Runs Saved over that span are tied for third among left fielders, while his 8.3 UZR/150 rank 11th among defenders with at least 200 innings in left. This performance helped him win his first Gold Glove Award last season. (As indicated in the image above, Statcast’s Outs Above Average are less high on him, as he’s been exactly league average at 0 OAA).
That said, although Benintendi would be a good fit for the Yankees, he is far from a perfect player. For starters, although he’s reasonably fast (his 27.4 ft/sec sprint speed ranks in the 55th percentile) and stole a ton of bases early in his career (52-for-63, an 83 percent success rate from 2016 to 2019), his baserunning skills in recent years leave a lot to be desired. FanGraphs gives him a -1.8 Ultimate Baserunning Score and a -0.9 wSB (weighted Stolen Base) this season, and he’s been thrown out more than half the time since then. While the 2022 Yankees do like to run, this weakness isn’t anything to be concerned about, as it can be worked around relatively easy.
Benintendi’s other major weakness, on the other hand, is one that can’t really be worked around without personal changes in his life:
The 10 Kansas City Royals who are not vaccinated and will miss the trip to Toronto are: OF Andrew Benintendi, IF/OF Whit Merrifield, C M.J. Melendez, DH Hunter Dozier, SP Brad Keller, SP Brady Singer, CF Michael A. Taylor, OF Kyle Isbel, RP Dylan Coleman and C Cam Gallagher.— Jeff Passan (@JeffPassan) July 13, 2022
Let me copy-and-paste what I wrote in my Michael A. Taylor target post, as it applies here:
Although the Yankees have only three games left in Toronto, those three games are in the final week of the season, and it’s well within the realm of possibility that the Yankees and Blue Jays will face off in the playoffs this October. While it’s entirely possible that this may not end up being a concern — the border restrictions between Canada and the United States may relax, or the two teams may simply not play any meaningful games in Toronto — this may just make [Benintendi] too much of a risk for the Yankees.
At the end of the day, it doesn’t matter how good Benintendi is. It doesn’t matter what the price tag is — which could be fairly considerable despite the fact that he is an unvaccinated rental, as he is one of the best outfielders available on the market. The most important ability is availability, and with the possibility of playing important games in Toronto, the Yankees may simply be inclined to bolster their outfield with players who will actually be eligible to play.