The Astros have been relatively quiet this winter for the most part. Signing right-handed relievers Ryne Stanek and Pedro Báez are the only major league transactions of consequence for the club since the conclusion of the 2020 season. In a strange way, that is a welcomed development considering the turbulent nature of last year’s offseason. Something about trash cans and the “dark arts” comes to mind. Yesterday was also the one-year anniversary of arguably the darkest moment in club history.
One year ago today the Astros' world was turned upside down. https://t.co/tof7JRDddh— Brian McTaggart (@brianmctaggart) January 13, 2021
A byproduct of a relatively quiet offseason up to now is that the Astros have yet to fully address the needs of the roster. Namely the outfield. On one hand, the market is moving slow and plenty of players are still available. George Springer, for example, is still available as of the morning of January 13, 2021. That simply isn’t right. The same goes for plenty of players but it is, unfortunately, the state of Major League Baseball. Most clubs are taking it slow right now.
But free agency isn’t the only avenue available to the Astros — or any club — to address their roster needs. Trades also exist in this universe and teams are always game for making deals if it is perceived as beneficial, whether to address a position of need, obtain financial relief, or both in rare instances. Based on the latest rumor, it does appear as if general manager James Click is exploring the trade route to address the outfield.
One industry source believes an Andrew Benintendi deal could happen soon, but it won't be with MIA: "That's not happening.'' Others who've checked in: TEX, HOU and OAK. Other source calls PIT a potential fit, mindful of Cherington connection.— Sean McAdam (@Sean_McAdam) January 12, 2021
Benintendi is an interesting trade candidate from the Red Sox. The former first-round pick is still under club control through the 2022 season and not too far removed from a 122 wRC+ and nearly four-and-a-half win season in 2018. He’s scheduled to earn only $6.6 million in 2021, which is a bargain for an above-average outfielder up to this point in his career. Plus, he’s only 26-years old and should be in the prime years of his career.
So, why are the Red Sox shopping him to other clubs in the first place?
Alas, Benintendi’s performance has not fared well in each of the past two seasons. Before I continue, however, it is fair to point out that his 2020 season ought to be struck from the record. For one, it is already difficult to glean anything meaningful from the numbers last season. A sixty-game season was essentially a glorified sample in a year where a pandemic was raging across the globe. Not to say that the season wasn’t important, but it is hard to draw too many solid conclusions in a league where the normal season is 162 games. Also, Benintendi only saw 229 pitches in real game situations in 2020. A strained rib cage cost him most of the shortened season. Again, not enough data to derive much from in the first place.
That said, Benintendi’s 2019 season does give me pause. Not only did his results take a noticeable dive from his career-best season in 2018, but there are also a few concerning trends to monitor.
While the drop in walk rate wasn’t particularly alarming, the rise in the outfielder’s swinging strike rate is. To put it simply, there wasn’t another hitter with at least 600 plate appearances to have a higher jump in swinging strike rate than Benintendi at 4.1 percent between those two seasons. The second-highest jump from 2018 to 2019 wasn’t even that close and it was Bryce Harper at 2.3 percent. It is also no surprise that his strikeout rate skyrocketed by 6.7 percent during that same period based on that increase. Again, that increase was first in the year-to-year changes for hitter strikeout rates. More strikeouts can also lead to less contact, which is apparent in this case. Those numbers together give enough credence to speculate whether it was a change of approach at the plate for Benintendi.
Not to mention that Benintendi’s speed and defense are additional aspects to monitor. Not for good reasons, mind you. When it comes to foot speed, the 26-year old has seen his numbers decrease in every season since his debut in 2016. That seems rather odd for, again, a 26-year old outfielder.
For defense, I find myself increasingly drawn to Outs Above Average (OAA) from Statcast in recent years. The main reason is the detail involved within the calculation, which includes numerous points of data as it pertains to particularities that each event may offer. After all, not every batted ball, fielder, or hitter is ever exactly the same and I feel as if OAA attempts to capture those nuances. For Benintendi, it is worrisome that defense isn’t exactly viewed as a strong point, although a certain catch against Alex Bregman in the 2018 ALCS alters that perception to some.
In essence, we have the Red Sox shopping a historically above-average outfielder, primarily as a hitter, under club control for two years at a reasonable rate. But he has recently fallen on hard times with concerning trends. Nothing controversial in those statements. The Astros, however, should have an interest in Benintendi. As a hitter, he could bolster a lineup that could lose both Springer and Michael Brantley. If Benintendi can right the ship at only 26-years old, it is possibly a move that helps the team now and in the future.
But Boston is shopping him for a reason and Chaim Bloom, who worked with Click in Tampa, is looking to bolster Boston’s pitching depth. Although the Astros have limited resources to pull from in terms of prospects, there are multiple pitchers in the farm system that offer some intrigue. While a swap likely wouldn’t include the best prospects in Click’s system, it will take a chunk of what makes the farm interesting. Altogether, the potential fit is there, especially if Click can’t find a deal to his liking on the free-agent market in the near future.