Benintendi Trade Reaction And Other Considerations
(NOTE: The SSTN Mailbag will return to its regularly scheduled programming next week, so keep your questions coming to SSTNReadermail@gmail.com. With the first big trade occurring Wednesday and the trade deadline looming on Tuesday, I thought it would be better to discuss the Benintendi Trade and its implications today.)
The first big shoe has dropped prior to the trade deadline. The Yankees made the first truly big move of deadline season, and now Andrew Benintendi is a Yankee. While his fit on this roster is fairly obvious, I want to take a rare moment to pat myself on the back. I first started writing about Benintendi's fit on the team when he was a readily available trade target who could be had for pennies as a reclamation project prior to his trade to the Royals. I stumped for Benintendi again prior to last season's trade deadline (though I was happy the Yanks acquired Gallo instead at the time...if you're going to pat yourself on the back when you're right, you have to admit when you're wrong). Some seem underwhelmed by the deal in light of the fact that Juan Soto is currently available. Let's talk more about the deal and its ramifications:
The Yankees traded three solid pitching prospects in order to obtain Benintendi. Beck Way, TJ Sikkema, and Chandler Champlain are all very different pitchers, but all three are guys who have a relatively high degree of likelihood to make the Majors in some form or fashion. Way was the most valuable pitcher of the group, with a very good fastball that lives in the mid-90s as a starter with usable secondary offerings. If Way can maximize his command/control potential, he's a mid-rotation starter, but is likely to carve out a role as a good reliever if the command doesn't take further steps forward. Sikkema was one of my favorite pitching prospects in the system a few years ago, but a variety of injuries have limited his playing time ever since his first pro season. Finally healthy again, Sikkema flashes a below average fastball that plays higher due to good deception in his delivery, and three average secondary offerings. Sikkema has a large body, and you could imagine him coaxing more velocity out of his delivery with better conditioning, but he has the makings of a solid 4/5 starter if he puts it all together. Champlain is not someone I see as a future MLB starter despite his current role. He has a violent delivery that will add wear and tear to his body over time and it will continue to limit his ability to command his pitches well enough to start. I think his fastball/slider combination is good enough to make him a future MLB reliever, but he has nowhere near the floor that Sikkema and Way have.
In short, it's three interesting pitching prospects, but none of these guys would have touched the Top-15 prospects in the Yankee system by anyone's ranking. Some of that is due to the pitching depth the Yankees have accumulated in their minor league ranks, but it is also fair to say that the Royals' return here is somewhat light for Benintendi. I know some projected that the Yankees would part with one of their better pitching prospects plus some ancillary parts for Benintendi, but I think this move is pretty damning for the Royals.
The Royals have been very pitching-heavy in the draft over the previous 3-4 years, so I view this trade as an admission from the Royals' front office that they have not drafted and developed as well as they should have. It's a sad thing for Royals fans, but it's good for Brian Cashman and the Yankees, as I think they got away with Benintendi for less prospect capital than should have been expected.
Benintendi is far from a perfect player. Despite his Gold Glove last season, metrics on Benintendi's defensive play in the outfield are decidedly mixed, trending towards average or less in left field; he gets to almost no pop with his current contact heavy approach; and he should probably be left on the bench against good left-handed pitching. However, that does not mean that he doesn't fit exactly what the Yankees need.
I know that many Yankee fans are salivating over Juan Soto, and there's good reason for that. Soto is a generational talent offensively who often walks more than he strikes out and hits for tremendous power. However, he doesn't run particularly well, metrics on his play in the outfield are mixed (and some stats indicate that's due to effort...a damning sign), and it appears that it would be nearly impossible, given the Yankees' current budget, to keep both Judge and Soto. Soto would make the Yankees better, but does Benintendi actually get the Yankees more of what they're looking for?
The Yankee lineup is filled with boppers already, with 9 players above the league average ISO (with 5 regulars significantly above that mark). What the Yankees don't have is a table-setter who can run, get on-base, and make gobs of contact. The closest thing the Yankees have to that player is DJ LeMahieu, who is hitting quite well with a .281 BA and .386 OBP, but he doesn't run particularly well. Benintendi's batting average is .316 with a .383 OBP this season, and he is a solid runner according to Statcast, ranking in the 53rd percentile for average sprint speed.
One can picture Benintendi batting first or second most nights, setting the table for the Yankees' boppers and allowing LeMahieu to move down into a run producing role, slashing liners all over the field. Benintendi has also played and thrived under the pressure of playing on a championship caliber team in a huge market. The Yankees need players who have been there and done that as they strive to win their first World Series since 2009. Benintendi is also left-handed, further balancing the lineup.
Soto is clearly the better player, but I think Benintendi may be a better fit for this year's Yankee roster.
Joey Gallo is on his way out the door, that much is clear, and it would be merciful for both sides. However, there seems to be this opinion out there that Gallo has no trade value, and that's not really true. I think most of the league expects him to go back to approximating his performance in Texas once he's out from under New York's bright lights. I think the trick is to find a team that needs an outfield bat for this year and in the future that wants to try Gallo out before signing him long term. Most people have focused on the Padres and Rangers, but what about the San Francisco Giants?
Their season has not gone as planned, they need a bopper in the lineup, and they need quantity and quality pitchers. They'd also probably like a mulligan on the Carlos Rodon deal after this week's antics. But you know what? The guy can pitch, and I think a deal can work for both sides. The Yankees need a good starter and to dump Gallo. The Giants need a bopper and to retool in an attempt to win maybe this year, but definitely next year with an aging core. Might a framework like this work?
The Yankees get a decent reliever to pad a bullpen desperate for arms, Rodon provides some stability to the rotation, and Schmitt is a nice, albeit low ceiling, 3B prospect who fields beautifully and may yet have untapped offensive potential. The Giants get two starters who would immediately slot into their struggling rotation who would be cheap for a few more years (and could be supplemented with free agent pitching this offseason), and they get to test out Gallo to see if it's a fit prior to free agency, as they are desperate for power in the lineup.
This might be a pipe dream, but I think it's an interesting and creative framework for a deal that doesn't just dump Gallo, but creates value for the Yankees as they chase a World Series.
More moves are clearly on the way, but any way you slice it, the Benintendi trade is a good one, and Yankees fans should be excited. The team is clearly going for it.