NEW YORK — Hours after flying cross-country on the Kansas City Royals’ charter and checking into their hotel Wednesday night, outfielder Andrew Benintendi was summoned by his now-former manager, Mike Matheny.
Benintendi was being traded. But, Matheny told him, he wouldn’t have to leave his hotel room. New York was about to be his home.
A day after being swapped out of Kansas City for a trio of New York Yankees prospects, Benintendi spoke to reporters at Yankee Stadium on Thursday. After walking into the ballpark’s home clubhouse for the first time, Benintendi took part in a 10-minute news conference. The former Royals and Boston Red Sox standout reiterated his excitement for putting on pinstripes and playing for a team he once considered a rival.
“Playing in Boston has prepared me for this atmosphere and obviously I’ve played a lot of games here,” Benintendi said. “So I’m looking forward to getting back out there and playing on the other side.”
Benintendi was already in the Yankees’ lineup Thursday and led off against the team that traded him.
“Definitely it’s a weird situation,” Benintendi said. “I’m obviously going to stay in contact with those guys still, as I did with my Red Sox teammates from the past.”
Rumors regarding a potential trade-deadline move for Benintendi had swirled around the major leagues for weeks. At one point, the Yankees were thought to be a non-contender in the sweepstakes for the 28-year-old because of his stance on the COVID-19 vaccine.
Benintendi had previously said he was against receiving the vaccine, and he remains unvaccinated.
Each season, the Yankees have regular trips to division-rival Toronto, where a vaccine mandate remains in place. Canada requires all people traveling into the country to be fully vaccinated against the virus.
On Thursday, Benintendi said he was “open-minded” about receiving the vaccine. The Yankees have one more trip to Toronto this season, Sept. 26-28.
“I’m not against it, but time will tell as we get closer,” Benintendi said. “But for now I’m just focused on getting comfortable with the other guys and winning baseball.”
Yankees manager Aaron Boone said the front office has not yet had a conversation with Benintendi about getting vaccinated, adding that the team will “cross that bridge if and when we have to.”
During his five seasons in Boston, Benintendi reached the postseason three times. In 2018, the Red Sox won the World Series, beating the Los Angeles Dodgers. He hit .333 (6-for-18) in that series and was a catalyst for Boston’s offense.
“I think it matters,” Boone said. “He’s been there and done that. He’s now kind of a veteran player so I’m looking forward to him being part of that room. He’s really into the game, really into baseball, and looking forward to him being able to get in the mix and share his experiences.
“The guy that we can look to and have a lot of confidence in whatever kind of situation we’re in. We feel like he’ll be equipped to handle that.”
Boone believes Benintendi’s presence can make the entire team more versatile. The speedy lefty can hit at the top of the order, or appear deeper in the lineup. He also gives the Yankees an additional option in the outfield, where injuries and inconsistent play have forced the team to shuffle its depth chart recently.
With Benintendi expected to spend the bulk of his time in left field, New York can shuffle Aaron Hicks — who has been mostly playing the position in recent weeks — back to center field on occasion, and move Aaron Judge back into a more regular right-field role.
“Honestly, it’ll be a fun game to play once we get everyone back, hopefully,” Boone said of crafting his lineup.
The power-hitting Giancarlo Stanton is currently on the 10-day injured list with left Achilles tendinitis.
After Benintendi learned from Matheny late Wednesday that he was being traded, the outfielder stayed in his Royals hotel room and played cards with some of his teammates from the past one and a half seasons.
He has yet to clear out of the hotel, but is working through his future lodging arrangements. When his old Kansas City teammates boarded buses to head to Yankee Stadium on Thursday afternoon, Benintendi had to find alternate transportation to the Bronx.
“It’s definitely a weird situation but it is what it is,” Benintendi said. “In the end you’ve got a job to do and I’m excited to get started.”