It’s been a pretty good spring for some ex-Red Sox players.
While Boston has struggled, a number of the team’s former employees are thriving in new locales. Kyle Schwarber is toting a 144 OPS+ with the Phillies, Hunter Renfroe has five home runs and 10 RBI in 21 games with the Brewers, and even starting pitcher Martín Pérez has been strong, if snakebitten, for the Rangers.
Yet none of them has turned things around to quite the same extent as old acquaintance Andrew Benintendi. The now-Royals left fielder spent much of April pacing the American League in batting average and has slashed .365/.422/.459 in 21 games this season. Although it remains to be seen whether he keeps up such an All-Star caliber pace, Benintendi appears likely to resume being a useful contributing piece, like he was early in his Red Sox tenure.
While there are many potential explanations for Benintendi’s turnaround, ranging from a simple change of scenery to a new emphasis on “squaring the barrel,” it might be even more straightforward than that. For the first time since midway through his second-to-last season in Boston, Benintendi appears to be healthy.
Largely forgotten in assessing Benintendi’s disastrous final season-and-a-half with the Red Sox was that he battled oblique and rib injuries from mid-2019 onward. The numbers are stark. In August 2019, he was outpacing his production from 2018, when he posted a 123 OPS+ and 4.8 WAR, when he tweaked his oblique. He proceeded to hit just three extra-base hits and plummeted to a sub-average player the rest of the way. In 2020, he got injured when he essentially tripped over a base and neither he nor the team were ever relevant.
With the Royals, Benintendi contributed a promising .276/.324/.442 slash line with 17 home runs and 73 RBI last season, and has knocked the cover off the ball early in 2022.
There’s no reason to lament, “Why can’t we get players like that?” to be frank. Despite winning a Gold Glove last season, Benintendi wouldn’t have anywhere to play on the current Red Sox, with Alex Verdugo entrenched in left field (and neither player really capable of playing any other position). Still, the Red Sox have some ground to make up for in the trade that sent Benintendi to KC in February 2021.
Benintendi has produced 3.1 WAR since the trade, which is far from eye-popping. But it soars above the minus-0.7 produced by Franchy Cordero in that timeframe, which will be a lot for the other headlining piece, pitcher Josh Winckowski, to make up for once he reaches the majors. Pitcher Luis De La Rosa, at age 19, is too far away to make any real assessment. (It’s still curious how Boston billed the swap as a future-oriented deal, when Cordero and Benintendi are the same age, had multiple years of team control ahead of them, and Benintendi had proven more at the big-league level at that point.)
A few things are known: Benintendi won’t continue to stalk batting .400 as he did in April, and the Red Sox won’t remain one game out of the basement. But signs suggest Benintendi is unlikely to follow the downward trajectory of his late Red Sox tenure, now that health is on his side.