Royals land 3 pitching prospects for Benintendi

July 28th, 2022

KANSAS CITY -- With just under a week until the Trade Deadline, the Royals finalized a deal to send outfielder Andrew Benintendi to the Yankees for three Minor Leaguers, the club announced Wednesday night.

Benintendi, a first-time All-Star and a free agent this offseason, was considered the Royals’ biggest trade chip this year, as he’s enjoying the best season of his career with a .320/.387/.398 slash line and a 123 OPS+ in 93 games.

The 28-year-old has postseason experience, plays Gold Glove-caliber defense in left field and will give the Yankees a left-handed on-base machine to complement their power-packed lineup, which the Royals will see firsthand again Thursday night when they begin a four-game set with the Yankees in New York.

The Royals ideally wanted to get one or two prospects back in any deal to part with Benintendi, and in this one, they got three: lefty T.J. Sikkema -- rated the Yankees’ No. 19 prospect who pitched at the University of Missouri -- right-hander Beck Way (No. 21) and right-hander Chandler Champlain.

All three enter the Royals’ Top 30 rankings on MLB Pipeline: Way at No. 12, Sikkema at No. 21 and Champlain at No. 30.

Sikkema, 24, was the Yankees’ 38th overall pick in the 2019 Draft and owns a 2.48 ERA across 36 1/3 innings and 11 appearances (10 starts) with 54 strikeouts and nine walks with High-A Hudson Valley this season, pitching well when healthy. The lefty varies his arm angle with an 88-91 mph two-seamer that comes from a three-quarters slot and a 93-95 mph four-seamer with a more overhand slot. His slider has high spin rates, and his sinking changeup sits in the low-80s.

Sikkema missed all of 2021 with shoulder and lat issues that didn’t require surgery, as well as some time early this season, but he’s been healthy recently and checked all the boxes medically and production-wise for the Royals.

Way, 22, was New York’s fourth-round pick in 2020 out of Northwest Florida State College. Way is 5-5 with a 3.73 ERA and 80 strikeouts in 72 1/3 innings and 15 starts this year in High-A. He leads the South Atlantic League with a .212 opponents' batting average and ranks third with a 1.12 WHIP.

Some scouts saw him more of a reliever because of command issues, but that evaluation has changed a bit this year with his walk rate down to 3.24, compared to 4.96 last year. Way has a four-seamer with ride and a two-seamer with sink, as well as a low-80s sweeping slider and a mid-80s changeup that has flashed potential this year with more consistency.

“Beck Way is really a projection guy with a big arm,” general manager J.J. Picollo said on Thursday. “We’ve seen him up to 98 this year. He’s got a running, sinking fastball to go with a slider.”

Champlain, the Yankees’ ninth-round pick in 2021 out of USC, turned 23 on Saturday and has a 4.30 ERA with 94 strikeouts and just 19 walks across 73 1/3 innings with Single-A Tampa this season. He has a fastball, curveball and cutter-slider, and the Royals are intrigued in his feel for a changeup.

Way and Sikkema will be assigned to High-A Quad Cities, and Champlain will join Single-A Columbia.

Because Benintendi is a rental player, the Royals knew they wouldn’t get a significant prospect haul back for the half-season of control the Yankees have with him. Kansas City was unlikely to offer Benintendi a qualifying offer at year’s end -- which would have netted a Draft pick if Benintendi rejected it and signed elsewhere -- so the Royals targeted mid-level prospects and got three strike-throwing pitchers, which Picollo noted could help them move quicker.

“What we were able to receive is three pitchers that have a history in professional baseball, as opposed to potentially having a Draft pick down the road,” Picollo said. “We felt like that was in the best interest of the organization today.”

The Royals had been drawing significant interest about Benintendi from AL East teams over the past week, including the Blue Jays. Benintendi missed four games when the Royals visited Toronto before the All-Star break because he isn’t vaccinated, but that did not deter the Blue Jays nor any team set to visit Toronto, sources said.

Benintendi moves on from Kansas City after putting up 4.8 WAR in a season and a half for the Royals, who acquired him from the Red Sox in 2021 in hopes of contending. That didn’t go as planned, with the Royals 20 games under .500 (39-59) again this year.

“Needless to say, we’re disappointed with how this season has gone, but it doesn’t take away from what he meant to us,” Picollo said.

Now, the Royals are clear sellers at the Deadline, and Benintendi will likely not be the only move they make. Sources indicated the Royals have discussed utilityman Whit Merrifield, center fielder Michael A. Taylor and reliever Josh Staumont. Starter Brad Keller and reliever Scott Barlow are trade candidates to a lesser extent.

These players have a season or more of control left on their contracts, so there isn’t as big of a need to move them like with Benintendi.

Still, the Royals won’t shy away from a deal that gives them key prospects to add to the group of young players that the club sees as the nucleus of future winning.

“I think it’ll get interesting,” Picollo said. “… It’s really a matter of whether or not we can improve our team or the organization moving forward by using these players. And that’ll be dictated by the level of interest and competition that may exist to acquire any one player.”