How Andrew Benintendi’s vaccination status changes Yankees’ trade deadline

HOUSTON, TEXAS - JULY 06: Andrew Benintendi #16 of the Kansas City Royals talks to Whit Merrifield #15 of the Kansas City Royals during the game against the Houston Astros at Minute Maid Park on July 06, 2022 in Houston, Texas. (Photo by Logan Riely/Getty Images)
HOUSTON, TEXAS - JULY 06: Andrew Benintendi #16 of the Kansas City Royals talks to Whit Merrifield #15 of the Kansas City Royals during the game against the Houston Astros at Minute Maid Park on July 06, 2022 in Houston, Texas. (Photo by Logan Riely/Getty Images) /

If you’ve got Kansas City Royals tickets for a game in Canada at any point in the not-so-distant future, it might be time to open up a StubHub sellers’ account (unless they’re contending, according to Whit Merrifield, which changes everything). Unfortunately, this week’s bombshell out of KC will affect the next three weeks of New York Yankees baseball significantly.

Left fielder Andrew Benintendi found himself among the 10 Royals names (fancy that?) who were placed on the restricted list ahead of the team’s showdown with the Toronto Blue Jays this week. That means, as of this moment, Benintendi is unvaccinated against COVID-19.

Could that change in the coming weeks, if Benintendi is traded to, say, a team that plays in the same division as the Toronto Blue Jays, has one September series remaining north of the border, and might clash with the team again in the postseason if things break wrong?

Don’t bet on it.

While Merrifield launched into a strange monologue to explain his status that seemed to hint he’d “done the research,” but would be willing to change his tune if a shot at the playoffs loomed, Benintendi was far more cryptic.

How will Andrew Benintendi’s vaccination status affect Yankees trade deadline?

Ironically, KC’s team slogan for 2022 is “Together Royal” — and, hey, they certainly are!

So … will Benintendi’s status eliminate him from trade talks with the New York Yankees? That question is more complicated than it appears at first blush. Pair Matt Carpenter’s emergence with Joey Gallo’s extreme struggles and Aaron Hicks’ latest soreness, and you can’t eliminate the Yankees from the left-handed outfielder chase. Whether it’s Benintendi or a different target, that need persists — and it was just a few days ago when Hicks was hot enough that some analysts were considering a pivot away from that race.

Still, with starting pitching emerging as a glaring issue, following Luis Severino’s injury and Jameson Taillon’s fall to earth (and, uh, Nestor Cortes isn’t looking so hot, either), it’s possible Brian Cashman tries to play the cost-cutting game with any outfield acquisition before going full bore after pitching (Luis Castillo of the Reds is a rumored top target, and an expensive one). That’s one reason the Yankees were connected to Benintendi’s Royals teammate Michael A. Taylor this week — who’s … also unvaccinated. So that’s no help.

According to Jon Heyman on Thursday morning, the latest update has all but halted their Benintendi chase. To play devil’s advocate, though … are we sure about that?

Unless Tropicana Field springs a leak and the Rays have to go to desperate measures, the Yankees only have one remaining regular-season series in Canada: Sept. 26-28, a time when New York really hope they’ll have the AL East locked up already. It’s highly possible they’re already resting starters, at that point, so a Benintendi absence wouldn’t kill them.

The playoffs are a risk, yes, but as currently situated, the Jays would have to fight through a best-of-three to get a shot at the Yankees in the ALDS — and that’s only if the seeding broke just right. If the Jays grab the final Wild Card spot and the Yankees hold the top spot in the AL, the two sides wouldn’t see each other until the ALCS. Would home games with Benintendi/road games with Matt Carpenter really be the worst-case scenario, especially if the acquisition cost of the All-Star outfielder is going down?

There are plenty of variables involved in this conversation, and if Cashman would rather just pivot to fellow All-Star Ian Happ in outfield trade talks, that’d make sense, too. But if he’s seeking backup platoon options while cashing his big-time chips in for a starting pitcher, you’d have to wonder whether he’d circle back and take the risk if Benintendi comes at a major discount.

Then again … the Yankees have a pristine roster without a single vaccination concern, at the moment. There are real-world implications here beyond the chalk lines, character elements that the Yankees might view with disdain. Add in the reality that any unvaccinated player will miss more time than a vaccinated player following a positive COVID test, and the headache might be too much to bear.

At the very least, the Blue Jays themselves have to be off the table in the Benintendi chase, which wasn’t the case when July began. There’s no doubt about that.

Or … wait, Jon Heyman’s actually saying the Jays think they can convert him. Never assume you can change someone, Toronto. Never assume.