Left field is something of a question mark for the Astros, but the team might be looking to fill the position with a former Gold Glover. Houston has had some discussions with free agent Andrew Benintendi, USA Today’s Bob Nightengale reports.
With Jose Abreu already acquired and Rafael Montero re-signed, adding Benintendi would be the Astros’ latest step towards fortifying their roster for another World Series bid. The team was already known to be looking for a left-handed hitting corner outfielder, to add both a bit more balance to a mostly right-handed lineup, and to provide more assurance in left field. Should an everyday player like Benintendi be signed, Jake Meyers would likely split time with Chas McCormick in center field, while Yordan Alvarez might see the occasional game in left field but would continue to primarily work as the designated hitter.
Benintendi wouldn’t come cheap, as MLBTR projects the 28-year-old to land a four-year, $54MM deal. This price point factors in Benintendi’s relatively young age as he enters the free agent market, as well as a skillset that makes him a pretty safe bet to be a productive (if not necessarily a star) player going forward.
Being “only” a productive player seems like a respectable middle ground for Benintendi, who looked like a potential superstar early in his career with the Red Sox but then almost like a lost cause in the wake of a brutal 2020 season. Benintendi rebounded with solid showings with the Royals and Yankees the last two seasons, moving to New York at the trade deadline before his season was ended by hamate bone surgery in early September.
This isn’t to say that Bentenindi might not yet have another breakout ahead of him, especially if he can turn around his drastic power dropoff in 2022. Even without much pop, Benintendi still had a 122 wRC+ and a .304/.373/.399 slash line over 521 plate appearances last season. A .352 BABIP aided that production, but Benintendi did an excellent job of taking walks, avoiding strikeouts, and putting the ball in play. Combining that offensive profile with above-average defense and solid baserunning made for a 2.8 fWAR season for Benintendi in 2022, the second-highest fWAR total of his seven MLB seasons.
The Astros have just under $198MM in luxury tax commitments for 2023, so if Benintendi was signed to something in the range of that projected $13.5MM average annual value, Houston would still have plenty of room under the $233MM tax threshold to make further moves. Owner Jim Crane recently said that the Astros “certainly have the ability to go at or over” the threshold, and spending on multiple players (Abreu, and perhaps at least one of Benintendi or Willson Contreras) might be more of a preferable strategy than splurging on a short-term, high-AAV deal on Justin Verlander.