It is impossible to believe the Yankees traded for Andrew Benintendi without an assurance that the 28-year-old left fielder will be vaccinated in time to play with his new teammates when the club crosses the border for a three-game series in Toronto that commences Sept. 26.
If not, whether through back channels or otherwise, then general manager Brian Cashman would be charged with malfeasance in acquiring Benintendi from the Royals on Wednesday in exchange for three prospects.
However one evaluates Cashman’s tenure, the GM has never been known to be negligent. And accquiring an everyday player who might not be eligible to play every day because of a personal decision, would represent the grossest kind of negligence.
Benintendi, who was in the left field and the leadoff spot in the order on Thursday against the Royals, with whom he traveled to New York on Wednesday, presents himself as agnostic regarding the COVID-19 vaccine.
He delivered rehearsed and meaningless word salad when asked about the matter during his introductory press conference at the Stadium a couple of hours before Jameson Taillon threw the first pitch of the ballgame.
“Right now I’m still positioned in the same spot,” said Benintendi, who was one of 10 Royals ineligible to play in Toronto when the club crossed the border for a four-game series two weeks ago.
“I’m open-minded about it. I’m not against it. But time will tell as we get closer [to the Toronto series]. For now I’m focused on getting comfortable here and with the guys.”
Without passing judgment, it seems to me that if you’re not against it, you’d be for it, and if you’re for it, you would have taken the vaccine in the last 16 months or so it has been available to the general population in the US
The three games in Toronto loom as critical dates in the race for the first overall seed in the AL that would bring home-field advantage over a hypothetical best-of-seven championship series against the Astros, whom the Yanks led by two games before Thursday’s action.
There is also the distinct possibility that the Yankees could meet the Blue Jays in the second round of the AL playoffs, where a possible three games of the best-of-seven would beed. It would be untenable to have an unvaccinated player on the postseason roster who could not play in those games.
It would be untenable for the Yankees, who checked in with 100 percent compliance ahead of this season’s first pair of three-game series in Toronto the first week of May and the middle of June.
Benintendi, who arrived with a .320/.387/.398 slash line and the second-most hits in the AL with 111, said that no one with the Yankees had spoken to him about his vaccine stance either before or after the deal was completed. Manager Aaron Boone confirmed he had not spoken to his newest player on that matter. Coincidentally, both used the term, “Cross that bridge,” about an hour apart. Of course, Benintendi won’t be crossing any bridges into Canada unless he is vaccinated at least 14 days ahead of the team’s trip to Toronto.
Again, though. It is downright impossible to believe that the Yankees are not confident they will be bringing Benintendi along for that ride. It is impossible to believe that a player who wants to contribute in a pennant race and run to the World Series — and who wants to assimilate — would be that selfish. It is impossible that Cashman left this up to chance.
Other than having taken the jab, Benintendi brings it all to The Bronx as a rental. He’s a slasher. He gets on base. He can bat up and down the order. He adds quality defense in left field. He makes the Yankees a deeper, more versatile and dangerous team and at just the right time.
The season has gotten a little long for the Yankees, bogged down in a stretch in which they had won just five of their previous 15 games. More troubling for a club that is still on a 108-54 pace is the doubleheader sweep by the Astros in Houston on July 21 and their two-game Subway Series sweep by the Mets this week.
Benintendi has championship pedigree as a member of the Red Sox 2018 World Series winners. His five years in Boston should have prepared him well for life in the Bronx fishbowl. He’s an energizing force on the field whose addition will give Boone a deep well of options — “He changes the equation,” said the manager — these final two months even as the GM sifs for more gold ahead of Tuesday’s trade deadline.
Boone talked about how making out the lineup will be a “fun game” to play with Benintendi on the club and how it will be “funner” when Giancarlo Stanton returns from his 10-day stint on the injured list with Achilles tendinitis and the club is healthy. But while Benintendi has an array of talent, the best ability is availability.
“I’m just trying to come here and help any way I can,” Benintendi said.
He can help by getting vaccinated.