The most valuable thing in baseball is the active roster spot. You only get 26 of them for any given game, and it generally represents the 26 best players in your organization at any one time. If you add a player to the roster, someone has to be dropped — Tim Locastro, who might actually be the best base stealer in baseball, was sent to Triple-A for the newly-traded Andrew Benintendi on Wednesday night. The Yankees feel that they net more runs with Benintendi on the roster than Locastro, and I’m inclined to agree.
But once a guy like Benny is on the 26 man, it’s hard to get him off. He’s out of waiver options so he can’t simply be sent down, and the Yankees aren’t going to cut bait on a guy they just traded for. Benintendi’s on the active roster until the Yankees’ playoff run is over, whenever that happens — the same as Aaron Judge or Matt Carpenter, both also free agents at the end of the season.
And really, its the presence of Judge, Carp, Giancarlo Stanton (eventually!), and Aaron Hicks on the roster, permanently, that influences my thinking on AB’s acquisition the most. Benintendi’s a good ballplayer, and the team is better now than they were on Monday, but my concern is less about “is the team better now?” than it is “is the team as good as it can reasonably be expected to be?”. With a roster that already features a host of bat-first corner outfielders, I think Benny represents a safe choice, though not the best choice we could reasonably expect.
However, due to that 26-man constraint, and the fact that neither Judge nor Hicks nor Carpenter nor Stanton are going to leave this roster, it makes further bolstering of the offense difficult, if not impossible, to pull off. And therein lies the rub — by going the safe route, the Yankees have capped their possible output without adding Juan Soto, Shohei Ohtani, or Ian Happ.
Benny is the proverbial bird in the hand — the Yankees knew they had the inside track on him, his cost of acquisition was lower, hell, they knew he was definitely available before the deadline, unlike a guy like Ohtani. But the funny thing about that expression is, if you can get yourself into the bush, you can have two birds! Twice as many birds!
The actual cost of adding Benintendi is pretty negligible, three moderately interesting pitchers pretty far from the majors, drawn out of an organization that’s got a strong track record of building MLB caliber arms. The opportunity cost, though, is that bird in the hand. You’ve got the safe pick, he makes the team better, but it’s a fairly typical, low-risk Brian Cashman move. With a team this good, with the last few months where you’re guaranteed that the best player since Derek Jeter is on the roster, I would have wanted to absorb a little more risk in exchange for making this the best possible team.
The addition of Benintendi probably signals that the books are closed on the offense. The Yankees have already decided the cost of Luis Castillo isn’t worth the payoff. If they use the relative prospect “savings” to land Frankie Montas, that gets them a little closer to being the best this roster can reasonably be. If not, sure, Benintendi makes the roster better, but the opportunity cost of him being permanently planted onto the roster for the rest of the season makes me think the team left runs on the board, exactly at the time they should be going for the American League’s throat.