Bye bye, Benny! A trade gives the outfielder his shot at the postseason
The Royals boost their minor league pitching pipeline with three prospects as Andrew Benintendi heads to the New York Yankees.
The Royals are heading to New York to open a four-game set against the Yankees beginning on Thursday. Once the club arrives in the Bronx, left fielder Andrew Benintendi will bypass the visitor’s clubhouse and head to the home side, trading the Royal blues for Yankee pinstripes.
On Wednesday night the Royals officially kicked off trade deadline season, dealing Benintendi, one of the most sought-after outfielders available, to the Yankees for three pitching prospects, right-handers Beck Way and Chandler Champlain and lefty T.J. Sikkema.
As the deadline approached, it was clear Benintendi was one of the top outfielders on the market (non-Juan Soto edition) and the word was building that he would bring back a “haul.” I guess “haul” is a relative term when discussing the return for what’s basically a two-plus month rental of a corner outfielder with no pop. The Royals opted for three arms who populate the mid range of the Yankees’ prospect lists. None of the pitchers have appeared above High-A, but it’s an opportunity to restock a system that can honestly use all the pitching help it can get.
Thinking back to the trade the Royals made with the Braves earlier this month where they acquired a couple of bats for a draft pick, I noted at the time that, given the success of the club’s minor league hitting program, I was on board with Drew Waters as the headliner. The Benintendi trade is a little different. There aren’t any bats in the mix for the Royals, and even though the Royals pitching development leaves a lot to be desired, it is a decent return on the surface. With teams placing a high value on prospect capital these days, Kansas City was never going to get a top 100 prospect for a couple of months of Benintendi.
The Benintendi-to-New-York steam had been building for a couple of weeks. There was some thinking that his vaccination status would put the kibosh on any potential trades, but as Whit Merrifield so thoughtfully eloquted a couple of weeks ago, players in Kansas City don’t want to get the jab for a loser organization. They’re more than willing to roll up their sleeves if the opportunity presents to play for a contender.
In perfect timing for his walk year, Benintendi is having the finest season of his career. Coming off a Gold Glove winning campaign in 2021, his defense has probably lagged a bit (he’s graded at 0 Outs Above Average by Baseball Savant), but it’s solid enough for sure. However, it’s with the bat where he’s really shined. Hitting in the top third of the order all year, he’s hitting .320/.387/.398 with a 126 wRC+. His power is limited, but his turn away from home runs seems to have coincided with consistent production in almost every other facet of his offensive game.
He’s not a star by any stretch, but he can be a valuable contributor for a contender at the top of the lineup. A key table setter for a club with some big boppers behind him. That’s the situation he will enter in New York. And the situation he’s leaving in Kansas City meant the Royals were exactly right in pulling the trigger on a trade.
Let’s take a look at the return…
Beck Way was ranked at #13 in Baseball America’s midseason update. He’s at #26 at FanGraphs.
Way was drafted in the fourth round of the abbreviated 2020 draft out of Northwest Florida State Junior College. He bumped his stock with a dominant performance in the Cape League in 2019 and was pegged as a second-round talent.
The right-hander is a starter who has thrown exclusively at High-A Hudson Valley this year. He’s made 15 starts and thrown 72.1 innings with 80 strikeouts and 26 walks. That’s a 9.95 SO/9 and a 3.24 BB/9, a ratio you can certainly get behind. He features a four and two-seam fastball, along with a slider and change. It’s the slider that gets the attention. From BA:
The slider is a sweepy pitch, with a nearly elite 14 inches of horizontal break and a swing-and-miss rate of 50%.
With a low arm angle, there’s some question about his ability to consistently repeat his delivery, which has led to some command issues. He’s been described as a “slinger.” Way has greatly improved his walk rate this summer, though, so perhaps he can stick as a starter.
ESPN’s McDaniel says Beck has flashed mid-rotation potential. That would indeed be some nice upside. It’s the past command issues that have led observers to be split on his future role, with some projecting the righty for a bullpen role.
Beck will report to High-A Quad Cities.
It will be a homecoming of sorts for T.J. Sikkema, who spun for the University of Missouri. The southpaw was selected by the Yankees in the supplemental first round as the 38th pick overall in the 2019 draft.
There’s plenty of injury risk here as he missed all of the 2021 season with lat, shoulder and elbow injuries according to BA. He was sidelined this year until May 8. That’s…something. Remember, TINSTAAPP. (There Is No Such Thing As A Pitching Prospect.)
However, when he’s been on the bump, he’s been really effective. He started his career in High-A Staten Island and punched out 13 in 10.2 innings against a single walk. He finished that ’19 season with a 0.84 ERA. This year, he’s made 11 appearances (10 starts) and posted a 2.48 ERA in 36.1 innings. He’s whiffed an astonishing 54 batters and walked just nine.
As you can infer from the walk numbers, the command is strong with Sikkema. He features a three-pitch mix with a low 90s fastball with a sweeping slider and a change with some nice fade. From FanGraphs:
Everything he does plays up due to his ability to use all four quadrants of the zone while keeping hitters off-balance with unpredictable sequencing and location strategies.
FanGraphs has his ceiling as a back of the rotation starter, while most observers feel he profiles as a reliever. He will need to go on the 40-man this winter or be exposed to the Rule 5 draft. It’s possible given his status that he will be on a bit more of a fast track than the other two.
He will being his Royals career in High-A Quad Cities.
There’s a bit of intrigue around Chandler Champlain. He was considered one of the prep arms in the 2018 draft, but a commitment to University of Southern California kept clubs away. At USC, he lost plenty of that draft shine and was selected in the ninth round of the 2021 draft.
He made his pro debut this year at Low-A Tampa. So far he’s made 15 starts and thrown 73.1 innings. He’s struck out 94 and walked just 19. Again, that will get your attention. From Baseball America:
The righthander’s two best offerings are a mid-90s fastball and a nasty slider, but he’s also begun incorporating a cutter and a curveball.
Reports from this year have his four-seamer maxing out at 99 MPH while he’s been pushing the curve in the high-70s. His command was a bit fringy coming out of USC, but it’s clearly improved. He worked on improving his fastball shape along with his secondary offerings after the draft in ‘21, which is why he made his pro debut this year.
Chaplain will start at A-ball Columbia.
The next step in this process is the Royals absolutely have to overhaul their minor league pitching program. Their track record at developing pitching has been abysmal through the years, so if you’re going to cash in one of your most coveted trade pieces for three arms, you damn well better revamp the system where they’ll be learning their craft. Hell, a change was imperative no matter what the Royals returned for two-plus months of Benintendi. But as the Royals continue to replenish the lower levels of the minor leagues with some live arms, doing nothing—or doing the same thing and expecting different results—just isn’t an option.
So like all trades for prospects, it’s impossible to immediately render a verdict. The initial return looks good. It’s the good ol’ quantity over quality, but when it comes to minor league pitchers yet to offer a delivery above High-A, that’s probably a decent strategy. In a way, it harkens back to that ‘18 draft where the Royals went super-heavy on college pitching. That four of the first five draft picks have thrown a major league pitch is a victory—although at times given the struggles of all four, that victory feels hollow. Still, that kind of graduation rate is fairly unique. The Royals will roll the dice on this trade and hope they are eventually adding three more arms to the major league stable.
Again—and I cannot stress this enough—the Royals have to address their organizational pitching development issues. Start at the major league level and work the way down. It’s imperative if that competitive window will ever open, that they find some success with the pitchers.
Perhaps you wanted a better return. It is possible that, by waiting a few days, the Royals could have improved their haul. I’m skeptical that it would have been that much better. Given that teams routinely value their prospect capital, deadline deals for players on expiring contracts don’t net as much as they used to. That’s why when you have a player like Whit Merrifield a couple of years ago, that’s the time to make a deal. Of course, the Royals didn’t have that option with Benintendi, who arrived via a trade with just two years remaining before he hit the free agent market.
This should be just the start with the newly transactional Royals. Action should be forthcoming with Merrifield and Michael A. Taylor. They should be fielding calls on Hunter Dozier, although that feels like a pipe dream. Relievers Scott Barlow and Josh Staumont should also be made available. Think about it…while Taylor or Merrifield won’t net a strong return by themselves, packaging a reliever in the deal could bring back a player (or two) of promising value.
These next several days ahead of the deadline should be busy for the Royals.
I never mind quantity - especially when one of the players is a former 1st round pick. It also screams to me that we do not have a ton of pitching we want to protect on the 40 man roster if we traded for one that definitely has to be protected and is still at high A.
40 man roster protections are right around the corner.
Different topic - now that Pratto and Pasquantino are up, who is manning 1B at Omaha? I looked at the roster and didn't recognize anyone as a top prospect. If we sent O'Hearn down to AAA to play every day, who would take his bench spot? Or is he out of options and I don't remember correctly?
And in fairness, I see his bench spot as an opportunity to platoon and OF position and set the players up to succeed. Most aare new to the big leagues and that taste of success is crucial to long term development.