The Yankees and Royals’ most notable on-the-field crossover came during the late 1970s, when the two teams matched up for three consecutive thrilling ALCS matchups from ‘76-’78. The George Brett-led Royals gave the Bronx Zoo as much as they could handle, but New York punched their ticket to the World Series all three times. After KC avenged the losses with a sweep in the 1980 edition, they’d trade more often in the decade and years that followed. Bygone postseason duels aside, their trade history is a little less contentious, with eight player swaps and a few more cash purchases making up the total picture.
December 7, 1973: The Yankees trade Lindy McDaniel to the Royals for Lou Piniella and Ken Wright.
The Yankees of the mid-to-late 20th century pulled this move effectively several times — cutting bait with a veteran at an opportune time while they still had some quickly diminishing value to speak of. McDaniel was a steady presence as a reliever and a spot starter, a junk-baller who used a big curveball to complement a fork ball. The Yankees were into the lean years and had little need for a veteran bullpen piece.
Wright wore pinstripes for one forgettable season. “Sweet Lou” Piniella, on the other hand, stuck and made his way onto our Top 100 Yankees list. He was a natural fit for the team in its transitional period, a fiery, no-nonsense hothead beloved by his teammates for his accountability. Lou’s rage never spilled onto another player: Piniella demanded more from those around him by demanding more from himself.
Piniella made an immediate impact by hitting .305 in 1974, the first of five seasons over .300. In the clubhouse and intangibly, he really started to shine as Billy Martin’s enforcer and an unquestioned leader on a team quickly developing personality. Piniella also made his mark on the aforementioned trio of ALCS matchups against his former team on his way to two World Series championships. He stuck around for his early-’80s twilight and retired as one of the most well-respected Yankees of his era, then embarking on a long and fruitful coaching and managerial career. Piniella is a baseball lifer and one of the greater minds the game has ever seen.
July 27, 2022. The Yankees trade Chandler Champlain, T.J. Sikkema, and Beck Way to the Royals for Andrew Benintendi.
Between this deal, the Frankie Montas trade, and the Jordan Montgomery/Harrison Bader swap, the 2022 Trade Deadline didn’t shake out so well for the Yankees. These were all major missteps, but the move for Benintendi at least made sense given what the team needed. The erstwhile Boston up-and-comer had become one of the hottest commodities of the deadline thanks to an All-Star first-half in KC, so the Yankees had to offer three prospects in return.
Benintendi wasn’t bad offensively, accumulating a 118 wRC+ as a Yankee, but he only played 33 games before a wrist injury suddenly ended his season. That October, the Yankees got swept out of Minute Maid Park in the ALCS. It was a case of bad luck for sure, but also a reminder that a deadline rental has the distinct, even probable, possibility of being an overpay for marginal returns. All three prospects remain in the Royals system and all have captured at least some success in the low minors, but nobody’s knocking down the door of any top prospect lists. So that’s the Yankees’ lone solace at the moment.
Benintendi did have this go-ahead home run against Toronto, which was nice.
Most Overlooked Trade
May 16, 1976: The Yankees trade Larry Gura to the Royals for Fran Healy.
In search of a backup catcher for Thurman Munson, the Yankees dangled promising pitcher Gura to the Royals and swapped him for the catcher Healy. Gura found success for the next nine seasons in Kansas City starting immediately in which he posted a dominant 149 ERA+ in his first season. An All-Star nod came in 1980, in a 283.1-inning masterclass of a season with a 2.95 ERA, and he followed it up with a complete-game victory over the Yankees in the victorious ALCS. Gura was a valuable starter, logging 200+ innings five different times in a Royals uniform.
Healy played two mediocre partial seasons in pinstripes and was gone after just one at-bat in 1979. This one was a clear and immediate win for Kansas City*, but the Yankees at least got the last laugh that season and the two after that.
*If one wanted to argue this as the worst trade, we wouldn’t dispute it; it definitely fits the “overlooked” category though because it’s unlikely that many Yankees fans under the age of 50 know about it. There just aren’t that many Royals/Yankees trade to write about.
December 8, 1983: The Yankees trade Steve Balboni and Roger Erickson to the Royals for Duane Dewey and Mike Armstrong.
This move proved a sensible complementary one to the Royals’ development as George Brett played the prime of his career. Don Mattingly was just about to break out and solidify his spot at first base, making Balboni expendable since New York employed too many DH types anyway.
Balboni played 566 games with the Royals over four seasons, mashing 119 home runs. His first two seasons in Kansas City were his finest with some MVP votes. The 36 dingers he launched for the ‘85 champions actually stood as the single-season franchise record until the late 2010s.
Accumulating a 102 wRC+ over his time with the Royals, Balboni was a valuable piece for winning teams. Another go-round with the Yankees capped off his career later on. The only other player who distinguished himself from this deal was Armstrong. He went on to pitch 52 games for the Yankees over three seasons, and was actually quite good in a small bullpen role.