The Royals trade their left fielder to the Yankees for three minor league arms.
I hope this isn’t breaking news to you, but if you did miss it the Royals traded Andrew Benintendi to the Yankees for three minor league pitchers. Those pitchers are Beck Way, TJ Sikkema and Chandler Champlain. They are three minor leaguers from a system that does a very nice job with pitchers in exchange for a little more than two months of Benintendi. I’m going to take you on a journey as I try to figure out if I love this trade, hate it or if it’s somewhere in between. My money right now is somewhere in between.
My initial reaction is that I wasn’t a fan because I thought there might be a bigger market and that the Royals maybe could have done better. They made the trade early and generally setting the market isn’t the best thing a team can do. I was hoping for a pitcher in the top 10 for the Yankees, and they didn’t get that. I believe that trades generally start off with an intense feeling one way or another and they start to move more toward the middle of the spectrum as time passes, and that’s what’s happening for me here already. Okay, so let’s break it down.
What They Gave Up
This is the easy part. Benintendi was having a fantastic season, hitting for average and getting on base while playing solid defense. He can hit at the top of any lineup and be a useful piece there. He will be a free agent after the season and is owed about $3.5 million the rest of the year. It’s a very inexpensive deal for the season he’s having, but the Yankees are acquiring him for their stretch run and their playoff run, so it’s for a maximum of 63 regular season games plus 19 postseason games at most.
And he isn’t without his faults. His ISO of .079 is the ninth-lowest in baseball among qualified hitters entering play on Wednesday. There are a few ways to say it, but he just doesn’t do that much damage on his swings. Which is fine as long as he’s hitting for the average he’s hitting for, but if his high BABIP suddenly falls off (and there’s no reason to expect a huge drop), he could become a bit of a liability. That said, he’s hitting .320 with a .387 OBP and is heading to a lineup full of guys who do damage to the baseball, so it won’t be a big concern for the Yankees, which is all that matters here.
I wrote back in early June about what the Royals could expect for some of their assets. Here’s what I said at the time about Benintendi:
Some of last year’s deals involving guys heading into free agency included Kris Bryant to the Giants for their number nine and number 30 prospects (according to MLB Pipeline). Jorge Soler brought back the Braves number 21 prospect. Eddie Rosario brought back a salary exchange only. Kyle Schwarber brought back the Red Sox number 19 prospect. Starling Marte brought the Marlins Jesus Luzardo. Nelson Cruz brought the Twins the Rays number 10 prospect and number 17 prospect. And Pederson brought back a first baseman who can’t really hit. If you want to add in Javy Baez as a potential difference-maker, he was sent to the Mets with Trevor Williams and brought the Cubs the Mets number five prospect.
I think Benintendi is closer to the Bryant/Marte level than the rest, but probably a step below them. So if you think he can bring back two prospects with one sitting in the 10-15 range of a team and another in the 25-30, then you can start to see what the return would be. Maybe that’s Adam Kloffenstein and Dasan Brown from the Blue Jays. Or Taylor Dollard and Victor Labrada from the Mariners. Or Jared Shuster and Justin Dean from the Braves. Or if they go the Luzardo-type return, that opens up some options as well.
This’ll bring us to the next section.
What They Got Back
In Way, Sikkema and Champlain, they didn’t get a slam dunk prospect. I probably fell into the trap of believing that we might see a bigger return for him than I clearly thought back on June 3. I think between the reports that the return might be better than expected and the sheer number of teams in on him, it made me believe that he might do better than some of those moves last season. And, as it turned out, he didn’t really. So let’s go player by player with their rankings in the Yankees system by publication.
Beck Way - 13th Baseball America, 21st MLB Pipeline, 26th Fangraphs
Way was picked in the fourth round in 2020 by the Yankees and has had a solid year this year in high-A. He has 27.6 percent strikeout rate and 9 percent walk rate in 72.1 innings covering 15 starts. He uses two fastballs, a four-seamer and a two-seamer and also has a cutter that he developed after being drafted. Both his main fastballs sit in the mid-90s and the four-seamer has touched 100 before, so there’s some juice in that tank.
What excited me about him is that he throws the sweeper that’s, ahem, sweeping the game. It’s a slider that you’re starting to see used in the best pitching organizations in baseball, including the Yankees. It gets nearly 14 inches of horizontal break, which is just insane. He also has a changeup that, in watching some video, has a chance to be a very good pitch, but isn’t there yet.
Many believe he ends up in the bullpen because he has control issues, but I think he’s been better than expected this season, so maybe some of that concern can be alleviated. I got a text from a scout that makes me feel a bit better - “He’s a big leaguer, and maybe a good one. Can he start though? I have some doubts, but I have less doubts today than in April.”
My gut is that if he does make it to the big leagues as a reliever, he can be a very good one, but the Royals are going to want him to get there as a starter. He’ll be assigned to High-A Quad Cities.
TJ Sikkema - 23rd BA, 19th MLB, 18th FG
There’s some local flavor here as Sikkema went to Mizzou. He was a first round pick by the Yankees in 2019. He missed 2020 because all minor leaguers missed 2020 and then he had some shoulder and lat issues that wiped out his 2021. Neither required surgery, but that’s something to keep an eye on. He’s pitched some in 2022 and has been outstanding with 54 strikeouts and just nine walks in 36.1 innings. He’s done that in 11 games, 10 of which are starts in high-A. He’s also only allowed 21 hits in those innings, which is pretty ridiculous.
His stuff isn’t going to wow you because he’s not approaching triple digit velocity, but he has a great feel for pitching. He does a lot with his arm angles to manipulate the movement on the ball, so while he’s only about 89-91 on his two-seamer and 93-95 with his four-seamer, they get the job done. He has a high-spin slider and a changeup that is good enough to help keep right-handed hitters honest. He’s kind of short and stocky and he has a bit a of a crossfire delivery, so I think he was going to get dinged for that plus the missed time before the year.
From a prospect perspective, he kind of reminds me of Jonathan Bowlan in that he’s maybe not as flashy as some of the others, but he might end up being the best of the bunch. That same scout on Sikkema: “Some concern about injuries, but could move fast. Not sure if he’s a starter, but he’s a weapon.”
Sikkema will go to High-A Quad Cities to start.
Chandler Champlain - 29th BA, Unranked MLB, Unranked FG
I’ll admit to being unfamiliar with Champlain. He was a ninth rounder last year out of USC and has been pretty okay in A-ball so far this year. He has 94 strikeouts in 73.1 innings and has walked 19, so that part is good, but he’s also a college guy in A-ball. His fastball sits mid-90s and he has a very good slider. Reports are that he’s worked in a cutter and a curve as well and I’ve seen reports that like him quite a bit, but there’s just not much information I have on him beyond that.
I thought this was interesting, from an article in May:
Scout’s take: “I really like Champlain. I think he’s a hidden gem that the Yankees uncorked. He was up to 98-99 in the outings that I saw him. He has pretty good command and control for a Low-A guy. He’s got a good body and good mechanics. His fastball plays down a little bit because he’s got an overhand slot, but the slider is legit. He’s shown a pretty good curveball, too. He doesn’t have a changeup, so he’s going to have trouble getting lefties out, but I think he can start in the big leagues.”
We’ll see Champlain start his Royals career in A-ball in Columbia.
While you don’t move Benintendi simply to be able to play someone else in his spot like was the case with the Carlos Santana move, the Royals need to have a corner outfield spot open for when Salvador Perez returns, which looks like it’ll be soon. It allows one of MJ Melendez or Nick Pratto to play the outfield to keep everyone in the lineup on a regular basis.
I was right. I was underwhelmed initially, but I think after getting past the idea that Benintendi was going to bring back more than this, I kind of like it. I don’t love it, but I kind of like it. I’m not sure if it’s a good thing or a bad thing that it depends on who you ask to find out who people think is the best pitcher in the deal, but I think it means the Royals are trying to do something different. This doesn’t feel at all like a Dayton Moore move to me, which means I think JJ Picollo really is running the trades.
The reality is that a corner outfielder with minimal power and a little more than one-third of a season of control simply isn’t going to bring back a star. I think the Royals maybe could have had someone a little higher rated like Luis Gil if they had only wanted two pitchers, but to get three, they ended up in a bit of a middle ground. After taking some time to write this up, digest the trade a bit more and really think it through, I think they did just fine. They didn’t clean up and they didn’t bomb. They got some quality and quantity.
The big issue is an organizational issue, and I’m not going to be able to fully evaluate this until we know what they’re doing in the offseason with their entire pitching program. If there is an overhaul a la the hitting development, then I think I actually like this trade a bit more than I do right now. If they sit back and make no changes, then I think I like this trade a bit less than I do right now. Ultimately, this organization cannot be trusted to develop arms, no matter where their development began. I think pitchers coming from an organization that has excelled in development helps some but without changes, acquiring pitchers who aren’t already big leaguers or close will lend itself to some variance.
In this particular deal, if two of these pitchers are quality big league relievers, it’ll be a slam dunk win. If one is a quality starter, it’ll be a slam dunk win. It doesn’t take a ton to be a winner in a trade of a rental from a bad team, but I at least like the upside here and think they probably ended up getting back about what the market value has shown for a guy like Benintendi in recent years.
You nailed it with the development comment.
Every trade is going to have that lingering cloud of doubt over it with "Well, what happens when Eldred gets his hands on him?".
Is it my imagination, or do rental players tend to bring back less of a return than they used to?