NEW YORK — Andrew Benintendi, the newest New York Yankee, was shrewd in his introductory press conference Thursday afternoon, playing it coy, and refusing to produce the definitive answer everyone wanted to hear.
He remains unvaccinated.
He doesn’t know if he’ll get vaccinated.
He didn’t even guarantee he’ll be vaccinated when the Yankees play in Toronto on Sept. 26-28 with Canadian laws requiring proof of vaccination when crossing the border.
“I’m still positioned in the same spot,” said Benintendi, the All-Star outfielder who was traded from the Kansas City Royals on Wednesday for three minor-league pitchers. “I’m not against it. But time will tell.”
When asked directly if he would be available to play in the Blue Jay series if the Canadian government doesn’t change their laws, he again sidestepped it.
“Right now, I’m just focused on playing ball,” Benintendi said. “I’ll cross that bridge when it comes. I’m open-minded about it.”
The cold-hearted truth is that Benintendi will get vaccinated providing the Canadian government doesn’t abruptly change its vaccination restrictions.
While it indeed is true that Benintendi has not directly talked to Yankee officials about his vaccination status, he informed Royals GM Dayton Moore about a week ago that he would get vaccinated if traded to an American League contender, two officials with direct knowledge of trade talks told USA TODAY Sports.
Moore, in turn, let every inquiring team know that Benintendi planned to get vaccinated.
This is why the Blue Jays, of all teams, were heavily involved in trade talks for Benintendi.
The Yankees may have an 11½-game lead in the American League East, and badly needed Benintendi to be their everyday left fielder, but there was zero chance they would trade for Benintendi if they weren’t informed of his decision to get vaccinated.
Benintendi, of course, could have disclosed the same information Thursday at his press conference, but cleverly declined.
I watched former Royals teammate Whit Merrifield get absolutely ridiculed in social media from coast-to-coast two weeks ago after he was identified among the 10 unvaccinated Royals who couldn’t play in Toronto.
Whitfield was critical of the vaccine saying, “What’s it’s supposed to do, it’s not doing. If it was doing what it was supposed to do and stopping the spread of COVID (then) I would have a little more willingness to take it, but it’s not doing that.”
The negative reaction greatly intensified when he intimated that he might get the vaccine if he were traded to contend. He apologized, but the damage was done.
“I poorly articulated the point I was trying to say,” Merrifield told Kansas City reporters. “If what was standing between me and the playoffs was this vaccine, I would consider getting it. I didn’t say I would get it for another team, or wouldn’t get it for this team, it was simply a point about showing how much I value playing in the playoffs.”
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Benintendi, who played five years in Boston, knows how the media game works. He wasn’t about to say anything remotely similar to Whitfield. Not now. Maybe never. It’s too hot of a topic.
If he revealed Thursday that he was definitely getting a shot, he would have been accused of being selfish, allowing the status of a team in the standings to determine his vaccination decision.
Now, he can pretend that he’s still undecided. He still has two months before his decision will be revealed, and by that time, he can simply say he became more educated about the vaccine’s benefits.
Oh yeah, and considering the Yankees are one of the few teams in which everyone is vaccinated, he can come across as the ultimate team player.
No back-page headlines.
Not national ridicule.
Really, a hero to Yankee fans.
Yankees manager Aaron Boone said that he has yet to broach the subject with Benintendi, but if he does, you can be sure he won’t publicly tell everyone. Why bother to say anything now? The Yankees don’t travel to Toronto for another two months.
“We’ll cross that bridge,” Boone said, “when, and if, we have to.”
Really, Benintendi has already come to be a team player to Yankees management. He was informed after the Royals’ afternoon game against the Los Angeles Angels that he was going to be traded to the Yankees. It wasn’t official, but Royals officials gave him a heads up, letting him make some calls, collect his belongings from him, and waited while he was the last player to board the team plane to New York.
The deal became official in the first inning of the Yankees’ game against the Mets, but it wasn’t announced until after the game. Yet, when asked Thursday when he was told he had been traded, he said that manager Mike Matheny informed him after their arrival in New York.
Benintendi spent the rest of the evening making calls, playing cards with his now former teammates at the Royals’ team hotel. He took a car to Yankee Stadium on Thursday afternoon, turned right instead of left inside the corridor, walked into the Yankees clubhouse, and joined an iconic franchise that has the best record in baseball.
On Thursday evening, Benintendi was in the starting lineup and playing left field, where he’ll remain all season. It allows the Yankees to play Aaron Judge more often now in right field instead of center field. And it shoves Joey Gallo to the bench, and likely completely out of the door, with Aaron Hicks playing center and Giancarlo Stanton as the primary DH.
“I’m really excited to have him,” Boone said. “I think he’s got a chance to be a really good fit for us.”
If Benintendi, instrumental in the Red Sox’s World Series title in 2018, helps do the same for the Yankees this season, he’ll be forever remembered in New York.
You know, for his actual performance, not his vaccination status.
Follow Bob Nightengale on Twitter @bnightengale.