NEW YORK — It was around this time last year that pinging sound effects and glowing screens filled a charter flight from Tampa to Miami, gossip filtering throughout the cabin that the Yankees were acquiring Anthony Rizzo from the Cubs. The move provided a welcome spark, prompting celebration in the aisles.
Rizzo and his teammates were in a pin-drop silent visiting clubhouse at Citi Field on Wednesday evening when they learned of another deal in the works, one that they hope will similarly boost their postseason chances. Shortly after a 3-2 loss to the Mets, the Yanks finalized a weeks-in-the-making swap with the Royals for outfielder Andrew Benintendi.
Yankees get: OF Andrew Benintendi
Royals get: RHP Chandler Champlain, LHP T.J. Sikkema and RHP Beck Way
“He’s a really good player,” outfielder Aaron Judge said. “I’ve had a chance to play against him for quite a few years when he was playing over in Boston. I’ve seen him do a lot of impressive things. So if that’s true, it’ll be definitely a big piece to what we’ve got going on here.”
In the deal, confirmed by both clubs later in the evening, the Yankees sent three pitching prospects to Kansas City in exchange for the 28-year-old Benintendi: right-hander Chandler Champlain, left-hander T.J. Sikkema and right-hander Beck Way.
Benintendi’s acquisition helped dull the sting of a walk-off loss to the Mets, when Starling Marte’s hit off Wandy Peralta sealed a two-game Subway Series sweep.
“He’s a really good player in the middle of an All-Star season,” Yankees manager Aaron Boone said. “He’s got a track record of success with the  Red Sox championship run. Obviously he was a really good player for them, but he’s putting together a really good year for the Royals right now.”
Silenced by birthday boy Max Scherzer over seven innings, Gleyber Torres’ two-run homer off David Peterson accounted for the Yanks’ offense on Wednesday, as New York went 0-for-15 with runners in scoring position over the two games in Queens.
Boone said he believes the left-handed-hitting Benintendi, an American League All-Star this season, can help to upgrade an already formidable order.
“It’s fake news that we’ve got too many power hitters in the lineup, too many sluggers,” Boone said. “We’ve got savages in the lineup, really good hitters. Benintendi is a great hitter, gets on base at a really high clip, hits from the left side that gives you some balance. … I’ll be excited to write his name.”
In 93 games this season, Benintendi has hit .320/.387/.398 with 14 doubles, two triples, three homers, 39 RBIs and four stolen bases. Benintendi’s 34 multi-hit games rank first in the American League, while he is third in batting average, tied for second in hits (111) and sixth in on-base percentage.
“Dog days of summer, we’ve been grinding it out for a while, then you add a piece like that,” Judge said. “A guy that’s been hitting well over .300 all year, playing great defense and being kind of a sparkplug over there in Kansas City. Anytime you bring him into the type of culture we’ve got, it’s always a plus and a boost of energy.”
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); the New York Post reported on Wednesday that Benintendi has told people close to him that he would receive the vaccine.
A 2021 Gold Glover who has played seven big league seasons with the Red Sox (2016-20) and Royals (2021-22), Benintendi has made 88 starts in left field this season, not committing an error in 164 total chances.
His arrival could create an outfield alignment of Benintendi in left field, Judge in center field and a combination of Aaron Hicks and Matt Carpenter in right field, at least until Giancarlo Stanton returns from the injured list.
Benintendi’s acquisition also likely spells the looming end of Joey Gallo’s time in a Yankees uniform; Gallo is batting .161 (37-for-230) with 103 strikeouts in 80 games, having last been used as a pinch-hitter in the eighth inning on Tuesday against Mets closer Edwin Díaz.
Wednesday’s loss was the Yankees’ 12th in 22 games this month, and they now have the Majors’ second-best record at 66-33 (the Dodgers are 65-32).
“We’re still one of the best teams in the game, so I wouldn’t really judge our season after a couple of weeks,” Judge said. “But I think adding a guy like [Benintendi] will definitely give us a little pump up, that’s for sure. I think he’s going to fit right in.”