There surely are many ways to celebrate successfully securing an $8.5 million salary, but Kansas City Royals outfielder Andrew Benintendi commemorated his payday by hitting a home run and driving in three in a victory at Coors Field on Friday night.
Benintendi became just the second player to go to arbitration against the Royals since president of baseball operations Dayton Moore was hired in 2006. Benintendi also became the first player to win his case. A panel of arbitrators sided with Benintendi, who filed for a salary of $8.5 million. The Royals had offered $7.3 million.
The arbitration hearing took place via video conference on Thursday, prior to the club’s series finale against the Texas Rangers in Arlington. Benintendi played in the game later that night after the hearing and had a hit and a walk.
Typically, the MLB calendar separates the arbitration process from the regular season. In a normal year, hearings take place during spring training and they’re in everyone’s rearview mirror well before Opening Day.
Of course, with the MLB lockout putting the business of baseball on hold for the winter, some very atypical circumstances ensued for players like Benintendi.
“It is what it is,” Benintendi said. “I think, obviously, the circumstances this year made it during the year. But it’s usually in February. But you take it as it is and you just try to see it from every angle. See it from their side. See it from my side. Then it’s out of our hands at that point. I’m glad it went in my favor.”
Benintendi, 27, entered Saturday night batting a team-best .324 and boasted a .374 on-base percentage. He also led the team in hits (36) and RBIs (15).
Benintendi and the Boston Red Sox had reached a contract extension in 2020 that bought out his previous two years of salary arbitration, so this was his first time going through a hearing.
Benintendi said his hearing took between 4 and 4 1/2 hours. That’s a fairly daunting predicament, considering the organization he’s playing for later that day had an obligation to argue against him and make the case that their salary offer was more applicable than what he and his representatives sought.
“It’s nothing that I haven’t heard before,” Benintendi said. “There was no hard feelings. It wasn’t personal at all. I didn’t take it that way. I’ve got to give props to my agency and all the work they put into it. I felt good going into it, and they executed.”
Royals manager Mike Matheny established a relationship with Benintendi before his arrival through Matheny’s son Tate, who played with Benintendi in the Red Sox farm system.
Matheny and Benintendi talked multiple times about him handling the potential distraction of an arbitration hearing during the season. On more than one occasion this week, Matheny lauded Benintendi’s professionalism during the process.
“He’s tough,” Matheny said. “He’s tough between the ears. We spent a lot of time talking about this going all the way to spring training almost. Hey, this is going to happen. How are you going to deal with that?
“He was very clear, ‘Hey, I’m ready for it.’ I think it’s also a guy that has been to a couple teams now. Even though he is still young, he’s seen and experienced the business of baseball. I think getting your head around that makes it a little bit easier.”
The Royals acquired Benintendi from the Red Sox in February 2021 ahead of spring training in a three-team trade that also involved the New York Mets.
Benintendi won his first AL Gold Glove in left field last season after having been acquired from the Boston Red Sox in a trade last February. He slashed .276/.324/.442, hit 17 home runs and recorded 73 RBIs in his first season with the Royals.
“It’s certainly not an easy process for anybody to go through,” Matheny said. “I think it just shows a lot about him and his understanding of the organization and the process. It’s a process and you’ve got to go through it once you sign up for it.”