Royals moves for Santana, Benintendi proof it’s time to win

KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) — The Royals had been quiet the past couple of offseason cycles, letting the young core they plan to lead their next assault on the World Series to grow and develop out of the bright spotlight of the major leagues.

Two significant moves the past couple of months are evidence the waiting is done.

Kansas City began by signing first baseman Carlos Santana, a longtime divisional scourge with the Cleveland Indians, to a $17.5 million, two-year contract to bolster a lineup desperate for power and on-base ability. Then the Royals swung a three-team trade to land Andrew Benintendi from the Boston Red Sox, providing an upgrade at the plate over retired left fielder Alex Gordon while adding more playoff pedigree to a team otherwise young and inexperienced.

“We have to time things in a way that blend all these different talents and resources together to put a winning team on the field,” Royals general manager Dayton Moore said. “This is a winning culture. We have a terrific fan base that expects us to put a competitive team on the field. We’ve won world championships, been to back-to-back World Series. We’ve proven as a group we can accomplish some special and unique things.”

Yet the Royals, whose pitchers and catchers began their first workouts of spring training Wednesday, have fallen a long way since those consecutive World Series trips ended with a triumph over the New York Mets in 2015.

They hung around .500 the following two seasons as they fought to remain relevant with their championship core, then lost at least 100 games each of the next two seasons as they allowed the group to disband and began a rebuild.

That process finally began to pay off last season, when the Royals finished 26-34 during their pandemic-shortened season but competed with a series of playoff teams down the stretch. And they did it while getting invaluable experience for some of their bright young prospects, headlined by starters Brady Singer and Kris Bubic.

Most of their other top prospects are also pitchers, and several could break camp with the team or arrive later this season — left-handers Asa Lacey and Daniel Lynch and right-handers Jackson Kowar and Jonathan Bowlen topping the list. But that still left the Royals with holes to plug in the lineup, and that’s where Santana and Benintendi enter the picture.

Santana’s signing means Hunter Dozier can play primarily third base and in the outfield, and Benintendi’s arrival last week solidifies not only the outfield but takes some offensive pressure off young players such as second baseman Nicky Lopez.

“It’s nice to feel wanted,” said Benintendi, whose 2020 season was derailed by broken ribs. “I feel like there’s a sense of pride for me. I want to perform well, obviously. I want to show them it was worth the trade, and I want to play well for the fans and the organization. I’m excited and it’s nice to be wanted.”

Benintendi grew up in Ohio and starred at the University of Arkansas, so despite playing the past few years in Boston, he still considers himself a Midwest kid. He’s always loved playing in Kauffman Stadium, and coincidentally — or perhaps it’s fate — his first introduction to Kansas City fans came while he was starring for the Razorbacks.

That would have been during the 2014 and ’15 seasons, when the Royals were on top of the world.

Exactly where they hope Santana and Benintendi can take them again.

“Those deals certainly made us a lot better,” Moore said. “We as a front office want to do everything we can to put all of our players in a situation where they can win a lot of baseball games. We believe in Mike (Matheny) and this coaching staff to bring out the absolute best in every player we have, and we believe we can win.”

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