What Happened to Andrew Benintendi?

After a career-worst performance last season, White Sox outfielder Andrew Benintendi is off to a brutal start in 2024.

Andrew Benintendi of the Chicago White Sox walks away after striking out during the third inning against the Cleveland Guardians at Progressive Field.
CLEVELAND, OHIO - APRIL 09: Andrew Benintendi #23 of the Chicago White Sox walks away after striking out during the third inningagainst the Cleveland Guardians at Progressive Field on April 09, 2024 in Cleveland, Ohio. (Photo by Jason Miller/Getty Images)

On January 3, 2023, the Chicago White Sox finalized the largest contract in franchise history with… Andrew Benintendi. Yes, the largest contract the White Sox have ever given out was a $75 million agreement with a player who is currently one of the worst in the league, less than a month into his second season with the club.

At the time, $15 million a year for a player like Benintendi may have been a slight overpay, but you could see the thought behind it to an extent. A year and change later, it looks like a huge mistake, as Benintendi’s production has fallen off a cliff in comparison to the peak seasons of his career.

Benintendi was selected seventh overall in the 2015 draft and quickly became one of the top prospects in MLB. He made his debut with the Boston Red Sox at just 21 years old the following year.

After a solid yet unremarkable first full season in 2017, Benintendi was a core piece of the 2018 championship team in Boston and looked to be on track to become one of the top young players in the game.

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In 2018, Benintendi slashed .290/.366/.465 while accumulating 4.4 fWAR due to his approach at the plate and strong defense in the outfield. Additionally, he stole 21 bases that season while walking more than 10% of the time and hitting 16 home runs. He was a well-rounded asset with a huge career ahead of him at just 23 years old.

The season that followed was a disappointment for Benintendi. His production fell across the board in 2019, and he finished the year with just 1.2 fWAR and a strikeout rate much higher than the year prior. Still, that was of minimal concern at the time in terms of the scope of his career, given his young age and abundant success over his first two seasons.

However, Benintendi struggled out of the gate in the shortened 2020 season before suffering a season-ending injury. He played in just 14 games that year. Then 26 years old, he was subsequently shipped to the Kansas City Royals in the offseason to begin the next chapter of his career.

Benintendi’s 2021 season was solid, but it was 2022 when he turned in a huge first half, earning the first All-Star selection of his career. He was then traded to the contending Yankees at the deadline. The switch-hitter finished that season with a 122 wRC+ between the two teams, just a notch below his career-best mark in 2018.

Despite a significant drop in his power (hitting just five home runs as opposed to 17 the year before) and an increase in his groundball rate, Benintendi’s performance that season earned him a large contract with Chicago.

The warning signs were definitely there, but Benintendi’s dependability and supposed contact skills made him a fit for a White Sox team that needed some stability following a very disappointing year in 2022.

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In his first season with Chicago last year, Benintendi turned in the worst performance of his career. He hit just five home runs for the second year in a row while hitting for a career-worst .262 average. He also saw a downturn in his defensive numbers as well. The outfielder posted -0.3 fWAR, as the White Sox stumbled to a 61-101 finish.

A bounce-back from Benintendi this year would ease the pressure of his contract (to an extent), but instead, he has trended even further in the wrong direction. Through 21 games to start the year, Benintendi has been, quite possibly, the least valuable player in MLB. He ranks third-last with -1.0 fWAR and dead last among qualified hitters with a 12 wRC+.

It hasn’t just been bad, it has been brutal for him this season. Benintendi doesn’t even look similar to the player who made an All-Star Game for the Royals just two years ago. His hard-hit rate is well below his career average at just 26.1%, and his approach has declined as well. He currently sports the lowest walk rate of his career.

Beyond just his offensive output, Benintendi’s defense has been rough in left field, and his arm value ranks toward the bottom of the league. Nothing he has done this season is working, and his contract now appears to be one of the worst in baseball.

Benintendi’s track record offers reason to believe that he will improve, at least marginally, this summer. He can work back toward being at least a solid contributor. Unfortunately, every metric shows a player nowhere near the type of hitter or defender he once was at an earlier stage of his career.

There isn’t really an answer for a team like the White Sox, who rarely choose to eat any money. I doubt any team would take on Benintendi’s contract via trade, so that leaves Chicago with the option of just hoping for improvement. It’s not ideal, but it won’t significantly affect a team that is already the worst in the league.

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Benintendi will look to tap into his talent as the season progresses, but things have certainly not gone his way so far in 2024.