Andrew Benintendi met the media on a Zoom call on Thursday and the word for the day was excited.
Benintendi is excited to be coming to Kansas City, He’s excited to meet his teammates and start new relationships. He hasn’t played since August and he’s excited to get back on the field. And…be still your Kansas City heart…he’s excited to enjoy some BBQ.
It was a genuine enthusiasm Benintendi projected on the call. He even said he was going to sound like a broken record because of his excitement. He was a fan favorite in Boston and it’s easy to see why. “I’m going to play as hard as I can and try to help the team win. That’s what it comes down to…Winning games and just getting better.”
Let’s get excited.
One thing I left out of my analysis of the Benintendi trade was his projections for the upcoming season.
PECOTA - .240/.336/.400, 101 DRC+
THE BAT - .253/.344/.412, 104 wRC+
Steamer - .256/.348/.420, 103 wRC+
ZiPS - .253/.347/.415, 98 wRC+
Remember, these projections were run when his home was at Fenway Park and while he professes to love hitting at The K, there’s going to be a penalty for changing addresses. With that caveat out of the way, it’s interesting that all four see him as around a league-average hitter. If that ends up being the case, the trade could work against the Royals in the long term. But still, you can’t argue the lineup isn’t improved over 2020 with Benintendi in the fold.
Benintendi acknowledged he altered his approach on and off the field in an attempt to add power. “There was an effort on my end to just get the ball in the air more. At the time that’s where the game was…So I was trying to go up there and hit for more power,” Benintendi said. “Now I kind of understand the player I am and the player I want to be.”
He suffered cracked ribs early in 2020 that ended his season and now feels 100 percent fit. He says he’s motivated to get back on the field and he’s naturally motivated now that he’s changed teams. Combine that motivation with his awareness of the type of player he is, it’s possible those projections above are selling him short—even with a pending offensive penalty for playing his home games at The K. That’s what the Royals are betting on.
With the Red Sox picking up $2.8 million of the $6.6 million owed to Benintendi, the Royals have now committed roughly $79.5 million to 15 players for 2021. If the remaining 11 players—each with less than three years service time—make close to the major league minimum, then the Royals are looking at an Opening Day payroll of around $86 million. Figure that number to bump up when Hanser Alberto and Wade Davis are added to the roster, as I expect.
The key takeaway is that adding Benintendi to the roster doesn’t—and shouldn’t—prevent the Royals from making other moves. Now the free agent pickings are slim at this point, but there is a certain reliever out on the market who had a successful, albeit, brief spell for the Royals last summer. I wonder what it would take to get Trevor Rosenthal back to Kansas City. I’m sure after the year he had in 2020 he’s looking for a multi-year deal and I completely understand if the Royals balk at going more than two years. Relievers are a finicky breed and the longer you keep them around, the more likely it is you’ll get burned.
Liam Hendriks is the only reliever to get a three-year contract this winter. Blake Treinen, Trevor May and Pedro Baez each received two-year deals with an AAV above $6.25 million. When the free agent season kicked off, the industry consensus had Rosenthal in line for a two-year deal with around a $7 million AAV. Given the deals mentioned above, you’d probably need to splash a little more cash to get a deal done. The Royals have the cash, and two years fits perfectly into their current process.
Missing from the initial release of PECOTA projections were the team win totals and standings. Honestly, isn’t that the best part? I know several of you are sore they missed by 20-odd wins in 2015, it does present a fun snapshot of where teams currently stand. And it is worth noting that while PECOTA is a computer crunching numbers, it’s actually a living, breathing program. There is a massive staff of people behind the scenes looking at past results and making tweaks and changes to the secret sauce that goes into the projections. There is some soul searching that goes on when a projection is wildly off the mark.
That’s not to say PECOTA, or any projection system, is perfect. They’re not and never will be. But they can still provide some fodder until the teams break camp and the regular season begins.
This week those standings were released for the first time; PECOTA projects the Royals for 71 wins and fourth place in the AL Central. If you’ve been with me from the beginning, you may recall that in my opening prediction salvo, I marked the Royals down for 75 wins. So it kind of feels like I’m within the margin of error. And really, I can’t believe I’m more optimistic than a computer!
Baseball Prospectus’s Simulated Win Percentage graphic tells the best tale.
The Twins are the favorites to win the division from PECOTA, but the Vegas oddsmakers currently favor the White Sox. If you pressed me today for the order of finish in the Central, I’d lean to Vegas. But you can tell from PECOTA that the race among the top three is going to be close. That, I can agree with.
This week’s acquisition of Benintendi should bump the Royals in a favorable direction. Add Rosenthal to the bullpen mix and that gap between the Royals and the top three will noticeably begin to close.
The Royals released their game times for the 2021 season on Thursday. Opening Day against the Rangers at The K will start at 3:10 and will be followed by day games on Saturday and Sunday.
Night games will start at 7:10 during the week with first pitch of Saturday evening games set for 6:10. Sunday day games will begin at 1:10.
The first workout for the Royals is scheduled for February 17th. It doesn’t feel like it in Kansas City, but spring is just around the corner.