Benintendi flew to NYC a Royal, now faces them as Yankee

All-Star OF 'open-minded' about COVID-19 vaccine ahead of Toronto series in late September

July 29th, 2022

NEW YORK -- Andrew Benintendi passed through the cabin entry door of a chartered jet on Wednesday evening believing it would be his final time traveling with his Royals teammates. The club won’t return home until after Tuesday's Trade Deadline, by which time he expected to be in a different uniform.

Benintendi was right; at least he was traveling to the correct destination. Shortly after checking into the Royals’ Midtown Manhattan hotel, Benintendi learned that he had been traded to the Yankees for three pitching prospects; his next game would come against the team he’d just traveled to New York with.

“I’m excited to be here,” Benintendi said before going 0-for-4 with a strikeout in Thursday’s 1-0 win over the Royals at Yankee Stadium. “I’m going to miss the guys I played with in Kansas City; I made some really good friends, but I’m looking forward to helping this team out.”

The Yankees acquired Benintendi late on Wednesday in exchange for left-hander T.J. Sikkema (ranked by MLB Pipeline as the Yanks’ No. 19 prospect at the time of the trade) and right-handers Beck Way (ranked No. 21) and Chandler Champlain.

Benintendi said he received the news from manager Mike Matheny around 11 p.m. ET, then played cards with a few of his now-former teammates, a group that included infielder/outfielder Whit Merrifield.

"I would have been fine leaving him here at the end [of the series]," Matheny joked. "But I knew this was in the works. I realized it was coming to a head and the timing wasn't going to be ideal for us competitive-wise, with him being on the other side and now leading off for the other team. But such is the business of baseball."

Even as he prepared to bat leadoff and play left field in his Yankees debut, wearing No. 18, the 28-year-old Benintendi said he was still checked in at the Royals’ hotel.

“It’s definitely a weird situation, lacing it up with them yesterday and going against them today,” Benintendi said. “That flight, we all knew something was probably going to happen. So when I found out last night, I got to hang out in the room with a couple of guys and say, ‘See you tomorrow.’ It’s exciting and I’m looking forward to these four games.”

Benintendi’s arrival could signal the beginning of a busy Trade Deadline for the Yankees, who started the season 49-16 (.754) but are 17-17 since June 19, with wins in just eight of their last 20 games after being swept by the Mets in a two-game Subway Series this week at Citi Field.

Describing Benintendi as “a left-handed DJ [LeMahieu],” Boone said that he envisions playing Benintendi regularly in left field, with Aaron Judge seeing more time in right field while Aaron Hicks slides into center field. Boone said that Judge will continue to see some reps in center field, where he has started 51 games.

“I’ll move Judgie around here these final couple of months, and we’ll see as we get moving forward what exactly our roster looks like,” Boone said.

An American League All-Star, Benintendi batted .320/.387/.398 with 40 runs, 14 doubles, two triples, three homers and 39 RBIs in 93 games for Kansas City.

His 34 multi-hit games ranked second in the Majors and first in the American League entering play on Thursday; Benintendi was also riding an eight-game hitting streak at the time of the trade, having reached base in 31 of 33 games with an at-bat since June 14.

“It’s a guy that’s championship battle-tested, played a key part in the Red Sox run in ’18,” Boone said. “A guy that gets on base, great bat-to-ball skills, good defender in left field. I’m really excited to have him in the mix. I think he makes us more versatile, gives us some more balance. I think he could hit a lot of different places in our lineup. I think he’s got a chance to be a great fit for us.”

Benintendi was in the headlines recently for non-baseball reasons, as he was among a group of Royals unable to travel to Toronto because he had not been vaccinated against COVID-19. The Yankees have one regular-season series remaining in Toronto (Sept. 26-28).

“Right now, I’m still positioned in the same spot,” Benintendi said. “I’m open-minded about it, I’m not against it. Time will tell as we get closer, but for now I’m just focused on getting comfortable, getting to know the guys and winning baseball games.”

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) states that vaccines are safe, effective and have greatly reduced or eliminated many infectious diseases that once routinely killed or harmed children and adults.

The CDC recommends the COVID-19 vaccine for everyone ages 6 months and older to reduce the severity of COVID-19 cases that have led to hospitalizations and deaths over the past two years. From April 4-30 2022, the most recent data available by the CDC, unvaccinated people aged 5 years and older had 1.9 times the risk of testing positive for COVID-19 and six times the risk of dying from the virus compared to people vaccinated with at least a primary series of the vaccine. At least 222.5 million people have been fully vaccinated for COVID-19 in the U.S., according to CDC data published by The Washington Post.