According to Jim Bowden of The Athletic, the Red Sox have engaged in trade talks centered around Andrew Benintendi. Bowden further reported that the Red Sox are looking for a pitching and outfield prospects.
This is a package that the St Louis Cardinals could put together as the organization has plenty of young outfielders and young pitchers. The headliner of such a package would probably be Tyler O’Neill, but if the Cardinals wanted to hold on to him then they could perhaps include Lane Thomas or Justin Williams and a better pitching prospect.
Of the pitching prospects, the Cardinals may be willing to include someone like Austin Gomber, Jake Woodford, Daniel Ponce de Leon (who is probably too old for the Red Sox), or maybe even Johan Oviedo. There are also plenty of young relievers like Seth Elledge, Kodi Whitley, and Ryan Helsley (who could potentially be a starter). Additionally, there are some lower level pitching prospects that could interest the Red Sox.
Of all the players that the Cardinals could trade for, Andrew Benintendi wouldbe the easiest to acquire. The Cardinals have a surplus of young, MLB-ready outfielders, as well as young, MLB-ready pitchers, and this would allow the team to trade from two positions of depth in order to acquire a more proven outfield option.
Additionally, Benintendi has just a $6.6 million contract for 2021 as well as another year of arbitration in 2022. This is not an expensive price for a someone who collected 8.4 fWAR between 2017 and 2019. Clearly Benintendi is a player who the Cardinals can afford, and also someone who they could reasonably acquire. The question then becomes - Is Benintendi a player that the Cardinals should acquire?
This is an interesting question because it depends on how much hope the Cardinals have in Tyler O’Neill. It is always possible that a player like Lane Thomas or Justin Williams could play themselves into a starting job, but the Cardinals seem more willing to give O’Neill at-bats and hope that he can figure things out at the plate. The problem with O’Neill, is that he does not seem to be a good hitter to consistently tap into his plus raw power.
Benintendi, on the other hand, was an average or better hitter every year except for 2020, when he played just 14 games. The 26-year-old peaked in 2018 with a 122 wRC+, but then posted a career low (before 2020) wRC+ of 100 in 2019. It was a similar story in Benintendi’s first two seasons as he was well above average at the plate when he debuted in 2016, but he then posted an average season in 2017.
Due to this it seems that Benintendi’s ceiling is something around 20% league average at the plate, while his floor is a league average hitter. If the former top prospect can come close to his ceiling, then he would instantly become one of the best hitters in the Cardinals’ lineup. However, if he is closer to a league average hitter, then he is just another 2 WAR player for St. Louis.
This is certainly a safer option than Tyler O’Neill, who has yet to figure things out at the plate. However, O’Neill just won a Gold Glove in left field while Benintendi has never been more than an average defender. Additionally, O’Neill is much faster. Therefore, if O’Neill figures things out at the plate, then he will likely be a better player than Benintendi. However, Benintendi has already figured things out at the plate. His 4.4 fWAR season in 2018 came on the back of a 122 wRC+. While he was unable to repeat this success in 2019, there are reasons to believe that it was due to a different approach at the plate. The outfielder’s swing rate rose by over 5% in 2019, and his whiff rate rose by 6%. This led to a career high strikeout rate (22.8%) and his lowest walk rate (9.6%) since his debut season in 2016.
Therefore, switching back to a more patient approach may help Benintendi return to being an above average hitter. Whether this happens or not, Benintendi is likely an upgrade from O’Neill. However, the Cardinals have four four outfielders that they want to give plate appearances to (O’Neill, Harrison Bader, Dylan Carlson, Dexter Fowler), while they likely want to see what players like Lane Thomas and Justin Williams can do as well. Therefore, they might be hesitant to add another outfielder. However, at worst, Benintendi is a league average starting left fielder, and at best, he is at least a 4 WAR player.
This certainly represents an upgrade from O’Neill and Fowler in 2021. Additionally, such an acquisition would allow the Cardinals to bench Fowler and Bader when they do not have ideal match-ups. Therefore, this trade is something the Cardinals should consider if it is at the right price. A package of O’Neill and one of the Cardinals young pitchers, should not be prohibitive. Rather it would allow the Cardinals to clear up the depth chart for other players to get opportunities, and it would allow them to improve the team in 2021 and potentially beyond.