After weeks of speculation, Andrew Benintendi is heading to the Bronx.
The Yankees acquired Benintendi, a left fielder, from Kansas City on Wednesday night, the team announced shortly after a 3-2 loss to the Mets in Queens. The deal, which was first reported by Jack Curry of the YES Network, gives the Yankees a high-contact batter as a reinforcement in the outfield in exchange for three pitching prospects: the right-handers Chandler Champlain and Beck Way and the lefty T.J. Sikkema.
It also gives the team a potential headache down the road if Benintendi chooses to remain unvaccinated against Covid-19, which would make him ineligible for games in Toronto.
Benintendi, 28, was an All-Star for the Royals this season. He is hitting .320 with a .387 on-base percentage, three home runs and 39 R.B.I. His arrival comes a day after the Yankees placed Giancarlo Stanton on the injured list with tendinitis in his left Achilles and in the middle of a tough year for Joey Gallo, whose strikeout-heavy approach has not been balanced out with his typical barrage of home runs and walks.
Gallo’s .161 average is barely more than half of Benintendi’s, while both players are above-average fielders. But there is also a wide gap in power: Benintendi, who has hit as many as 20 home runs in a season in the past, has adjusted his approach to emphasize contact. His .399 slugging percentage would be his worst mark in a full season.
“Benintendi’s a great hitter. Gets on base at a really high clip, hits from the left side, so yeah, gives you some balance,” Yankees Manager Aaron Boone told reporters just before the Yankees announced the trade. “That’s another really good big league hitter to add to the mix that’s going to lengthen out our lineup and potentially give you that balance you look for.”
The move is a return to the American League East for Benintendi, who was a first-round draft pick of the Boston Red Sox in 2015 out of the University of Arkansas and spent his first five major league seasons with the club. He was sent to the Royals in a February 2021 trade.
The Royals will immediately have to face their former outfielder as Kansas City begins a four-game series at Yankee Stadium on Thursday.
“I had a chance to play against him for quite a few years when he was playing over in Boston,” Aaron Judge told reporters before the move was official. “I’ve seen him do a lot of impressive things.”
Judge continued: “Adding a guy like that will definitely give us a little pump-up, that’s for sure. I think he’s gonna fit right in.”
Potentially complicating matters for the Yankees down the road is the fact that Benintendi was one of 10 Royals who had to be placed on the restricted list ahead of a series in Toronto earlier this month because they were not vaccinated against Covid-19. The Athletic’s Ken Rosenthal and Jayson Stark reported that Benintendi’s vaccination status was not discussed between the Royals and the Yankees.
The Yankees, whose entire active roster was cleared for Canadian travel earlier this season, have one series left in Toronto in late September and could also play the Blue Jays, who are second in the A.L. East, in the postseason. Benintendi, should he agree to get the vaccine, has plenty of time to do so before it is an issue.
Despite being one of the more sought-after outfielders on the market, Benintendi, who is eligible for free agency this off-season, did not cost the Yankees any premium prospects. None of the pitchers acquired by the Royals have experience above High Class-A.
Sikkema, a 2019 first-round pick, was the Yankees’ No. 19 prospect, according to MLB.com. He owned a 2.48 E.R.A. over 11 games (10 starts) with High-A Hudson Valley this season. Way, a 2020 fourth-rounder, ranked 21st the Yankees’ system. He recorded a 3.73 E.R.A. in 15 starts with Hudson Valley before the trade.
Champlain, meanwhile, is playing his first season of pro ball after being a ninth-round pick in last year’s draft. He had a 4.30 E.R.A. in 16 games (15 starts) for Class-A Tampa.
With the Aug. 2 trade deadline right around the corner, the Yankees may not be done dealing. Rotation depth is an issue with Luis Severino on the injured list, Nestor Cortes at a career-high innings count, and Jameson Taillon in a funk. The available options would likely include Cincinnati’s Luis Castillo and Oakland Frankie Montas, both of whom are pitching well for last-place clubs.
New York may also try to trade for a reliever following a season-ending elbow fracture sustained by Michael King, one of this year’s surprise stars in the bullpen.