The more I think about Andrew Benintendi, the more I like what he brings to the White Sox. He’s a true outfielder with an ability to reach base both through his hit tool and the regular walk. He also stands to benefit from Guaranteed Rate Field without any adjustments, but he’s shown the ability to tailor his swing to his environment.
The only thing I don’t like about him is that he’s left-field-only, which means that the uncomfortable idea of Eloy Jiménez in right field will linger into the season.
There may come a time where a left-to-right outfield of Benintendi, Luis Robert and Oscar Colás is impossible to usurp from any angle no matter how badly Jiménez wants in. That time is a few months away at the earliest. Setting aside standard injury caveats for Benintendi, Colás has to prove he can handle MLB expectations for a majority of the games, and Robert has to avoid getting hurt for months at a time. If either development breaks the wrong way, either Jiménez has to play a fair amount of outfield, or everybody has to commit to Gavin Sheets and a sight-unseen Jake Marisnick to a level that exceeds all comfort.
So, Jiménez must maintain his readiness, and Pedro Grifol must maintain an open mind when it comes to potential alternative outfield alignments because any Plan B is a four-story drop from Plan A. These are truths.
Unfortunately, they’re just truths that shouldn’t be belabored. The further the conversation extends beyond one sentence, the more one risks sounding demoralizing or delusional.
Grifol floated the possibility of Jiménez playing right field back when the Sox signed Benintendi, and he did so again to 670 The Score on last weekend.
“I’m really looking forward to seeing Eloy in right field,” Grifol said. “I’m not talking about seeing him there every day, but I’m talking about maybe seeing him there a day or two a week if possible and keeping him athletic and keeping him working on the defensive side, because I know that helps on the offensive side as well.”
Perhaps he looks forward to Jiménez playing right field like I looked forward to Jake Burger turning a double play. I assume his interest is not backhanded because he is tasked with offering public support for the key offensive component of his first-ever lineup, but there comes a point where “generosity of spirit” can start sounding like “out-of-town stupid,” and Grifol has his own first impressions to mind.
The same goes for Jiménez, and one person’s adamancy is another’s obstinacy.
“Last year, when I was DH’ing more than (playing) the outfield, it was because I got surgery,” Jiménez said when asked about accepting a DH role. “And I understand that. But this year, I’ve been working really hard to play the outfield more than DH. So I don’t really think that I’m going to accept it, because if I’m working hard, I’m going to get better, and I want to play in the outfield.”
Nobody should want him to surrender to the DH lifestyle and start ordering Tommy Bahama shirts by the dozen, but it’s also difficult to treat his breakdown of the outfield corners with particular reverence.
“It feels way different because most of the contacts in left field, you don’t know where it’s going to go. Right field is a lot different because every ball the right-handed hitter hits most of the time has some backspin. It’s way better being there.”
Maybe this is true, although I’d say that most true left fielders wouldn’t say “you don’t know where it’s going to go.” Forgive the possibility of imprecise wording in a second language, and Jiménez’s reputation still precedes him.
The thing is, Jiménez isn’t the worst defender the Sox have put in the outfield over the last five years. He actually has the foot speed to make some improbable catches, and while his reads and routes don’t allow him to pull those off with regularity, his arm strength might be the biggest concern when it comes to thinking about him as a right fielder, because that turns two bases into three.
Still, if Jiménez had Sheets’ durability, playing the other corner wouldn’t warrant as much concern. Alas, he has a history of injuries via high-exertion plays and a tendency to end up in physical positions that few outfielders find themselves in. The White Sox produced a bobblehead that shows how he wasn’t to be trusted catching routine flies in his own jurisdiction. Now Jiménez trying to go from class clown to connoisseur without any real evidence of progress, like if Pete Davidson started complaining about an Oscar snub.
Jiménez’s pride may be wounded by this conversation, but he can consider himself fortunate that he’s still in the mix, as more proactive organizations might’ve thoroughly barricaded him from any outfield work. While Rick Hahn noted that Jiménez’s DH production makes it easy to deploy him there regularly, he didn’t do enough work to ensure it. He wouldn’t normally have this kind of opening on a team with ambitions, so he may as well run with it.
The first hope is that Colás will hit well enough to hold down a spot in right field and the bottom half of the lineup card, because that would simplify matters drastically. The other hope is that Jiménez hits well enough to give the Sox top-of-the-line DH production that easily plays whether he has to pick up a glove, like the discussions we used to have during interlague play when the National League forced pitchers to hit for themselves. Hitting on both feels like one of those same-game parlays that wrings money out of novice gamblers, except the Sox have way more money riding on this particular combo than they should.