The communication between the Andrew Benintendi and the Chicago White Sox began on the first day of free agency.
The correspondence concluded with the All-Star outfielder and the Sox agreeing to a five-year, $75 million contract.
“There was constant interest throughout the entire process,” Benintendi said during his introductory news conference Wednesday at Guaranteed Rate Field. “It’s good to be here with a team that wanted me from Day 1.”
Benintendi’s deal — first reported on Dec. 16 — is the largest in team history.
“The way I approach it is, it doesn’t matter what the (contract) number is, it’s about winning games,” he said. “It’s about playing hard. No one really cares if you don’t win games. In the end, it’s all about winning and being a good teammate.”
He joins a team looking to bounce back after going 81-81 last season and missing the playoffs.
“The first thing that stands out about that team is the pitching staff,” Benintendi said. “The tough arms in the bullpen, the tough starters. And it’s just a bonus on the other side too. The talent at the plate, the at-bats guys have, the speed, the power.
“I’m excited to be a part of it, watching from afar the last two years, to be a part of that lineup, this team, I’m excited to get things going.”
Benintendi, 28, has a .279/.351/.431 career slash line with 169 doubles, 73 home runs and 384 RBIs in 745 games with the Boston Red Sox (2016-20), Kansas City Royals (2021-22) and New York Yankees (2022).
Benintendi has a connection with some of his new teammates, including having played with reliever Joe Kelly while in Boston. Benintendi also has ties to manager Pedro Grifol, who was the bench coach when Benintendi played for the Royals.
“He’s a very versatile player as far as where we hit him in the lineup,” Grifol said. “He’s done everything in the game — he hits for average, he has hit for power, he runs the bases well. He fits really well with what we’re trying to do here.
“He fits perfect on this ballclub, he fits perfect in this park. He’s exactly what we were looking for.”
That bond with Grifol played a factor in his signing.
“The last two years being with him in Kansas City, how he went about his day, his routine, the early work and preparation was something that stood out to me when I was in Kansas City,” Benintendi said. “It’s easy to joke around with him. It’s been a good relationship and looking forward to the next five years, it’s going to be even better.”
Benintendi slashed .304/.373/.399 with 23 doubles, five home runs and 51 RBIs in 126 games for the Royals and Yankees in 2022, and was named an All-Star for the first time.
He has hit at least 15 home runs in a season three times, including a career-high 20 in 2017. He had 17 homers in 2021. The .304 average last season was a career high, good for sixth place in the AL.
Asked if he would like to add more slugging along with the contact, Benintendi said, “Oh, yeah, everybody would like that.
“But for me, playing at Kauffman (Stadium) in 2021, I got pretty frustrated just flying out. We joked about it all the time, these long flyouts. I’m not the biggest guy (5-foot-9, 180), it’s going to take everything I can to hit a ball out of that stadium. So going into last year, I was thinking let’s just hit for higher average and higher on-base and hopefully this works or I’m going to be in a world of trouble. I’m trying to be a complete hitter.
“Playing in this stadium, a lot of those long flyouts will turn into doubles and home runs without even trying to change anything. Whatever the team needs me to, whatever player they need me to be, that’s who I’ll try to be.”
Benintendi also gives the Sox a boost defensively in left field — he won a Gold Glove Award in 2021. According to FanGraphs, Benintendi leads all major-league left fielders with 31 defensive runs saved since 2017.
“It’s something you don’t appreciate when you’re younger,” Benintendi said of his defense. “You go out there only worried about your at-bats and sometimes you take your at-bats into left field or where you’re playing, but for me it’s something I’ve taken a lot more ownership of and more pride in.
“Taking better routes, getting quicker jumps is something I’ve focused on the last two years, especially playing in a bigger outfield at Kauffman, so it’s been something I’ve taken pride in. …. It’s something I will keep working at.”
Grifol has talked with Eloy Jiménez, who will be shifting from left field to designated hitter. Jiménez had success as a DH last season, slashing .274/.343/.500 with 11 homers and 35 RBIs in 50 games in the role.
“(Benintendi) comes here to play left field, he’s done it his whole career and he’s obviously very good at it,” Grifol said. “I’ve spoken to Eloy, I’ve told him to continue to work in the outfield, to work some in right field as well. … And in true professional manner, Eloy is like whatever is best for this ballclub and whatever helps us win.”
Grifol is looking forward to the reunion with Benintendi, describing him as “a quiet leader. Plays the game hard, respects the game and he’s going to be a hell of a teammate.”
It’s a new team and new uniform number for Benintendi, who laughed when he was asked if there was any significance to No. 23.
“It’s not what you think,” he said. “I am a Michael Jordan fan, was growing up. But the main numbers I usually like to wear were all taken or retired. And this presented itself and I thought ‘Why not?’ My sister her senior year was 32 so I can flip that around in support of her.
“It’s a cool number, an iconic number in this city. I’m by no means trying to say anything about that, but hopefully it does me well.”