CHICAGO (AP)When Pedro Grifol was preparing for his first interview for the manager job with the Chicago White Sox, he identified Andrew Benintendi as a perfect fit for the team.
When Benintendi’s name was brought up during his second interview, Grifol knew he was on to something.
”He’s exactly what we were looking for this offseason,” Grifol said.
With Grifol on hand, Benintendi pulled on his new No. 23 White Sox jersey on Wednesday – a day after finalizing a $75 million, five-year deal. It’s the richest contract in terms of total value in franchise history.
The White Sox had long been interested in Benintendi, going back to when the outfielder was selected by Boston with the No. 7 pick in the 2015 amateur draft – one spot ahead of Chicago. The White Sox pounced after he became a free agent, finishing last season with the New York Yankees.
”The thing for me is that from day one in the offseason there was communication,” Benintendi said. ”There was constant interest throughout the entire process. … So glad to be here. It’s good to be with a team that wanted me from day one.”
Benintendi helps balance the predominantly right-handed lineup in Chicago and upgrades the team defense in left field. Eloy Jimenez likely moves to designated hitter with Benintendi in the fold.
”I’ve spoken to Eloy, I’ve told him to continue to work in the outfield, to work some in right field as well,” Grifol said. ”So that conversation has already been had with him, and in true professional manner Eloy is like whatever is best for this ballclub and whatever helps us win baseball games.”
The move reunites Benintendi with Grifol, who was hired Nov. 3 after spending the past 10 years in a variety of coaching roles with Kansas City. Benintendi played for the Royals for 1 1/2 seasons before he was traded to New York in July.
Benintendi said Grifol’s presence definitely played a role in his decision.
”The early work and preparation was something that stood out to me when I was in Kansas City,” he said. ”It’s easy to joke around with him and everything. It’s been a good relationship and looking forward to the next five years, it’s going to be even better.”
The 28-year-old Benintendi hit a career-best .304 with five homers and 51 RBIs in 126 games last year, earning his first All-Star selection. He missed the playoffs with the Yankees because of a broken right wrist, but he said he has experienced no issues since he began his offseason work.
The contract for Benintendi is the biggest move so far for a Chicago team looking to rebound from a disappointing 2022 season. The White Sox went 81-81 and finished 11 games back of AL Central champion Cleveland after making the playoffs the previous two years.
”A lot of things happen throughout a season, guys play through stuff, injuries happen,” Benintendi said. ”From what I saw from afar is that the injury bug kind of got everybody over here. The talent’s insane in that clubhouse, so definitely excited to be a part of that.”
Benintendi began his big league career with Boston in 2016, then hit .271 with a career-best 20 homers and 90 RBIs in 2017. He helped the Red Sox win the World Series in 2018.
He had just 31 extra-base hits last year, but he thinks playing at Guaranteed Rate Field and the new rules regarding defensive shifts will help with his power numbers.
”In the end, I’m 5-(foot)-9, 175 pounds, I’m not going to be running out 30 homers,” he said. ”But I think the more I’ve played, the more I learn myself as a player and I think that I can hit for more power. And I think that just playing in this stadium now, there will be more just because the dimensions are different.
”But I think I help the team the most when I get base the most and let guys drive me in. So that’s what I’m really going for.”
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