In targeting Andrew Benintendi, Yankees show they learned from Joey Gallo trade

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NEW YORK — The Yankees needed an offensive spark ahead of last year’s trade deadline, so they went out and traded for the hottest hitting name available on the market. The day the Yankees agreed to acquire Joey Gallo from the Texas Rangers, July 28, they were 52-47 and sitting nine games behind the Red Sox in the American League East.

Just a day shy of a full year after agreeing to acquire Gallo, and two days shy of a year after the trade became official, the Yankees went out and acquired another left-handed outfielder: Andrew Benintendi, who has been with Kansas City since 2021. Benintendi’s plate approach is diametrically opposed to Gallo’s — he’s a bat-to-ball type who is hitting .321/.389/.399 with three home runs this season.

“Benintendi’s a great hitter,” manager Aaron Boone said Wednesday night after the Yankees’ 3-2 loss to the Mets. “He gets on base at a really high clip. Hits from the left side, so he gives you some balance. That’s another really good big league to add to the mix who’s gonna lengthen out our lineup and give you that balance you look for.”

The Yankees announced the Benintendi trade late Wednesday night, but did not announce a corresponding move for him on the active roster. The Yankees placed outfielder Giancarlo Stanton on the injured list on Tuesday, and recalled Tim Locastro, who can be optioned to the minor leagues. Gallo does not have options and would have to be traded or designated for assignment to be taken off the active roster.

When the Yankees agreed to acquire Gallo, as a team they were hitting .236/.325/.397, exactly league average by the Weighted Runs Created Plus statistic. It didn’t matter that Gallo was the ultimate example of what they already had too much of in their lineup: Raw power with lethal swing-and-miss rates. He was left-handed and a formidable — though consistently inconsistent — offensive force who had recently taken his second trip to the All-Star Game, and the Yankees needed a jolt.

In reality, left-handed first baseman Anthony Rizzo was the more valuable, productive and interesting offensive acquisition for the Yankees last season. He gave them a contact hitter who upgraded the infield defense just by his playing ability at first: His acquisition was a quiet message about where the Yankees felt their deficiencies were last season, even as they acquired another swing-and-miss type in Gallo.

Things are different for this year’s Yankees squad. A scorching hot start has helped them weather a mediocre July in which they’ve gone 10-12, lost both games of a doubleheader against the Astros and were swept in a two-game series against the Mets.

Still, at 66-33 on the season with an 11 1/2 game lead in the AL East, the Yankees can acquire Benintendi to patch some of the holes in their offense, rather than bringing him in hoping he will take a pair of jumper cables to their offensive approach. Through 99 games this season, the Yankees’ .246/.331/.444 line as a team is tied for MLB-best (and is highest in the AL) with a 120 wRC+.

Benintendi, who was acquired in exchange for minor league pitchers Chandler Champlain, T.J. Sikkema and Beck Way, is on an expiring contract, meaning the Yankees do not have to commit to him beyond this season. He also comes to New York with five years experience in the AL East as a member of the Boston Red Sox, with three years of postseason experience, including as a starting member of their outfield during their 2018 World Series Championship season.

“He’s got bat-to-ball skills, speed, always works a good at-bat,” Aaron Judge said of Benintendi. “He can leave the yard on you. I’ve seen it many times at Yankee Stadium. He’s a well-rounded player, that’s for sure.”

The Yankees have been the winningest team in MLB to this point in the season, but their struggles over the last month have helped clarify their need to augment and add to their team before making another postseason run. In addition to Benintendi, the Yankees could also add some additional pitching before the Aug. 2 deadline, with space in both their rotation and bullpen for help.

Benintendi’s acquisition all but ends the Yankees’ year-long attempt to make Gallo fit the needs of their ballclub. He’s hit .160/.293/.371 in 130 games as a Yankee, 11 percent below league-average by wRC+. His playing time had been drastically reduced already, and it has been clear that the Yankees do not see him as having a future on their team. Benintendi gives them another outfield option and adds another bat-to-ball guy to the lineup, joining Rizzo, DJ LeMahieu and Isiah Kiner-Falefa as players of that variety.

This time last season, the Yankees needed to wake up their offense, and they headlined their trade deadline by adding the splashiest offensive player available on the market. In targeting Benintendi, they were able to take a different approach: He is consistent at the plate and experienced in the postseason.

Benintendi would have been traveling to New York either way for a four-game Royals-Yankees series that begins on Thursday. Instead of it serving as an audition, it will become his Yankees debut.

(Photo: Daniel Shirey / MLB Photos via Getty Images)