The Yankees and Royals made the biggest move of the limit season so far. New York announced an agreement to acquire the outfielder André Benintendi of Kansas City in exchange for pitching prospects Beck Road, TJ Sikkema and Chandler Champlain.
Benintendi has been one of the game’s most obvious trade candidates in recent months. The Royals entered 2022 with competing plans but fell to a 16-32 record until the end of May. This made Kansas City an obvious time seller and an imminent free agent like Benintendi likely to change uniforms.
New York adds a contact-oriented bat to its outfield mix. Benintendi owns a .321/.389/.399 line on the year, walking at a strong 10.1% clip while only hitting in 13.5% of his trips to the plate. He is only connected on three circuits, but Benintendi leads the majors with 91 singles and has collected 14 doubles. He didn’t look like the 15-20 homer bat he was in his early seasons with the Red Sox, but he made contact on 82.6 percent of his hits.
Benintendi’s production was bolstered by a career-high .368 batting average on live balls. that the Yankees are unlikely to anticipate his 2022 mark to stay that high. Even if his BABIP regresses closer to his career number of .325, his plate discipline and bat control should support a solid on-base percentage.
These bat-to-ball skills stand in stark contrast to the player he is likely to move from the lineup, Joey Gallo. Last summer, New York’s biggest due date pickup, Gallo has struggled mightily since arriving in the Bronx. He’s a .160/.293/.371 hitter in 498 plate appearances as a Yankee, with a massive 38.4 percent clip on that streak. Among batters with more than 200 plate appearances this season, Gallo has the third-highest strikeout rate (38.1%) and the third-lowest contact rate on swings (62.2%).
The Yankees are now ready to deploy an outfield of Benintendi, candidate MVP Judge Aaron and Aaron Hicks – owner of a massive .333/.471/.593 line this month after a slow start to the season – most days. Giancarlo Stanton is the designated lead hitter, although he landed on the disabled list yesterday. New York has already started cutting Gallo’s playing time while working in the scorching heat Matt Charpentier in the corner outfield mix, and tonight’s acquisition is the strongest signal, but the Yankees are ready to take Gallo out completely. It stands to reason that they will try to find a taker for him in the trade before the deadline next Tuesday.
The judge adequately handled a move from right field to center field this year, leaving Hicks and Benintendi to play corners. The latter has played exclusively left field since landing in the spacious Kansas City ballpark, ranking well in Defensive Runs Saved and Ultimate Zone Rating. Statcast’s Outs Above Average has listed him as a full-fledged defender in each of the past two years. He should add an adequate to above-average glove in the outfield while providing a noticeable improvement over Gallo’s recent work at home plate. It will be a boost for a team that already led the majors with 523 points scored.
The fact that the Yankees pulled the trigger on a Benintendi deal is sure to raise a few eyebrows for some off-field reason. He was placed on the shortlist ahead of the recent Royals series in Toronto, indicating he had not been vaccinated against COVID-19 at the time. This makes him unavailable for playoffs in Toronto unless his vaccination status changes or the ongoing ban on unvaccinated athletes crossing the border is lifted. Reports soon after emerged the Yankees might be deterred from pursuing him due to concerns about his availability.
This obviously turned out not to be the case in the end. Jon Heyman of the New York Post and Andy Martino of SNY each suggest (Twitter connections) that some people close to Benintendi think he is now willing to get vaccinated. The Athletic’s Ken Rosenthal and Jayson Stark say vaccination status was not brought up in discussions between the Yankees and Royals offices (Twitter link). Whether that’s because the Yankees expect him to eventually be eligible to play in Toronto or if they’ve simply decided to accept his possible absence for a few games is unclear.
The Yankees, who ironically begin a four-game series against the Royals tomorrow, have just three regular-season games left in Toronto. With an 11 1/2 playing cushion on the Jays in the AL East, a three-game absence — if it comes to that — seems unlikely to have much effect on the regular-season standings, even if it could be relevant in the event. the Yankees and Jays meet in the playoffs.
Benintendi is playing this season on a salary of $8.5 million, of which approximately $3.3 million will be paid out over the remainder of the season. The teams made no mention of cash considerations, so it looks like the Yankees will pick up the rest of this tab. New York’s luxury tax payroll now sits at just under $265 million, according to Jason Martinez of Roster Resource’s estimate. They pay a 20% tax on their first $20 million over the base threshold of $230 million, with a 32% fee on every dollar spent between $250 million and $270 million. If they exceed $270 million via future transactions, they will owe a 62.5% tax on any money up to $290 million (with higher fees thereafter). That’s a record spending level for the Yankees, who look likely to explore both rotation and bullpen improvements over the next few days.
As for the return of the Royals, they will bring a trio of minor lower arms. Way, Sikkema and Champlain were each ranked among the Yankees’ top 30 prospects in Baseball America, with Way leading the group at 13th in the system. ESPN’s Kiley McDaniel agrees Way is the return headliner, Tweeter that it looks like a possible mid-rotation starter.
A fourth-round pick in 2020, Way spent this season at High-A Hudson Valley. He worked 72 1/3 innings on ball ERA 3.73, striking out 27.6 percent of opposing batters over average. The 22-year-old right-hander (23 next month) has posted solid ground ball numbers throughout his first pro career, and he’s walking with a career low 9% of batters faced. Way’s control was previously spotty, but BA credits him with a mid-90s fastball and a promising sweeping slider.
Sikkema was the 38th overall pick in the 2019 draft. The canceled minor league season in 2020 wiped out his first full professional season, and he missed all of last year on the injured reserve list. This confluence of factors means he has only made 15 appearances as a pro, yet he boasts a 2.48 ERA with a whopping 38% strikeout percentage and strong 6.3 walk rate. % in 36 1/3 innings in High-A this year. BA praises his ability to throw strikes and suggests his forearm lunge adds some deception to his delivery. He will need to be added to the Royals’ 40-man roster at the end of the season or be exposed to the Rule 5 draft.
Champlain was a ninth-round draft pick from USC last season. The 23-year-old spent the entire year with Low-A Tampa, posting a 4.30 ERA with a 30.5% strikeout rate against a 6.2% walk percentage in 16 outings against generally younger competition. Baseball America credits him with a mid-’90s fastball and a promising slider.
The Benintendi deal will be the first of many dominoes to fall over the next few days. Rosenthal and Stark report that the Blue Jays, Brewers and Dodgers were among the teams interested in Benintendi, and it stands to reason the rest of that group could look for other ways to add to their outfield. Ben Gamel, David Peralta and Tyler Naquin are among other left-handed outfielders expected to be available, although none seem likely to generate as much interest as Benintendi.
YES Network’s Jack Curry was the first to report that the Yankees were acquiring Benintendi. ESPN’s Jeff Passan first reported that the Royals are receiving three minor leaguers, who Joel Sherman of the New York Post initially specified were Way, Sikkema and Champlain.
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