Letters from camp: Extending Benintendi
The Royals avoid arbitration with a handful of players. Could they be looking to extend Andrew Benintendi? Meanwhile, Bobby Witt Jr. vaporizes a baseball.
Three games, three wins. The Kings of the Cactus League are at it again.
Tuesday’s contest against the Oakland A’s featured Angel Zerpa on the bump in his spring debut. A surprise addition to the Royals’ 40-man roster after the 2019 season, Zerpa has picked up some of that coveted prospect helium, coming in at number 20 on the Royals list at Baseball America. He looked the part on Tuesday, attacking the zone with his fastball and flashing secondaries that were generally exceptionally located. It was an impressive two-inning performance.
Zerpa would’ve been the story of the day, but Bobby Witt Jr. was in the lineup and he did this:
The dinger was on a fastball on the inner half. Just look at how Witt pulls his hands in and still whips the bat through the zone.
He’s so quiet and then just explodes with power. I don’t believe I’ve ever seen a right-handed swing this…beautiful. That’s it. This is a beautiful swing.
I know you’re excited. You should be. Somehow the excitement level just ramps up with every at bat. Lordy, I need to take it easy, you know?
Taking care of business
On Tuesday, the Royals announced they reached an agreement on 2022 contracts with six of their arbitration-eligible players. They’re listed below, along with their estimates provided by MLB Trade Rumors.
I don’t want to “keep score” so to speak. If you’re a long-time subscriber, you know I enjoy using the estimates MLB Trade Rumors provides. It’s a helluva thing to try to project all those contracts. That they come within eight percent or so of the final number is very impressive.
Nevertheless, this is meaningful for the Royals as they were able to hit the under on all, save Scott Barlow, who they nailed exactly. With those six under contract, I’m estimating the Royals 2022 Opening Day payroll (for a 26-man roster) checks in at just under $88 million. For perspective, last year’s Opening Day payroll was just under $89 million. You have to assume they have money left in the budget. It would be very disappointing if they kept payroll static.
The Royals also announced they reached deals with 26 pre-arbitration players. Those guys will all earn around the major league minimum of $700,000 if they’re on the big league roster.
A Benintendi Extension
That leaves only two players unsigned for 2022: Andrew Benintendi and Nicky Lopez.
The next step is for the players and the team to exchange numbers. Joel Sherman broke those on Twitter late Tuesday.
Those are what will be presented to the arbiter, if it reaches that point. While a number of teams have adopted a “file and trial” mantra the last several years, and it’s thought the Royals subscribe to this, they have only gone to arbitration once (with Brandon Maurer in 2018) since Dayton Moore became the general manager.
Now, let’s discuss the two who have yet to agree to a contract. First, Benintendi. I would bet the newsletter that the lack of agreement between the Royals and their left fielder means they are in serious discussions about an extension. MLB Trade Rumors projected Benintendi to earn $9.3 million next year, so those estimates were way off. Still, the gap between player and club is a rather large $1.2 million.
The gap doesn’t phase me. It’s something we’ve seen in the past with the Royals ahead of an extension. Remember, this is Benintendi’s final run through the arbitration process. He will be eligible for free agency at the end of this year. For the Royals to keep him for the next couple of seasons, I imagine they would take a little off what he could’ve gotten for this year and bump the salary for his age 28 and 29 seasons. Something like this:
2022 - $8 million
2023 - $12 million
2024 - $14 million
2025 - mutual option with $2 million buyout
That’s basically a three-year contract at $33 million. And note the $8 million for this year…that’s right around the midpoint between the numbers submitted.
Benintendi’s career offensive numbers to this point are worth examining.
At this point, Benintendi’s 2018 season looks like the clear outlier. What’s interesting is that he appeared in 34 games as a rookie in 2016 and had his 2020 season completely short-circuited by a rib cage strain. So if you look at only his (mostly) full seasons, he’s good for around 2.0 fWAR while hitting somewhere in the neighborhood of .270/.340/.435 with an ever so slightly above average wRC+. There’s value in that kind of consistency.
The other part of the equation can’t be ignored and that’s defense. While the FanGraphs metrics don’t especially celebrate Benintendi’s glove work, he was tied for an AL-best +7 Defensive Runs Saved by The Fielding Bible. Statcast graded Benintendi as strictly average in left. I think the eye test says he’s a solid, yet unspectacular, fielder. Probably a little above average. He did win his first Gold Glove in 2021.
When projecting a contract extension, it’s useful to have comps. MLB Trade Rumors, in a writeup on Benintendi earlier this offseason went with Kyle Schwarber. Yeah…Ummm…Ok. We’ll just agree to disagree on that one. Instead, I’d look at Eddie Rosario. While Rosario is three years older than Benintendi, both have slightly similar overall offensive production throughout their careers. Rosario hits for more power, while Benintendi will get on base at a better clip.
This is a season-by-season comparison of their wOBAs. (wOBA measures how the player reached base and the impact that has on scoring runs.)
Benintendi is the better defender, but it’s not like he’s miles ahead of Rosario in left. Again, that’s a value Benintendi can leverage playing in the acreage of the outfield at The K
Rosario landed in Atlanta last summer after he was signed by Cleveland for $8 million. The Braves just re-signed him for two years at $18 million. Based on that, and keeping in mind the age gab between the two, Benintendi at three years with a $12 million AAV, sounds about right.
What do you think a Benintendi extension would look like?
What’s the deal with Lopez?
I’m a bit surprised that the Royals weren’t able to reach an agreement with Lopez before the need to file numbers. Especially given the $400,000 gap. Why not just split the difference and call it a day? Seems so simple. In this case, it’s possible they could also be talking extension, but I’m not certain that this would be the right time. Lopez has played stellar defense since arriving in Kansas City but really broke out in a big way at the plate last summer. He basically became the player we thought (and hoped) he could be.
With roughly league-average offense and fantastic defense, Lopez was worth 4.4 fWAR last summer. If the two camps are discussing an extension, it would be safe to assume the Royals believe that what Lopez flashed with the bat in 2021 will continue going forward. I’m inclined to believe that to some degree, but I’d perhaps error on the side of caution here. If the Royals were to lock Lopez in for his three remaining years of arbitration, they have to be absolutely certain that he’s turned the corner. Me? As much as I love what Lopez brought to the club in last season, I’d like to see another year before I bought in fully.
It will be interesting to see how this one plays out.