In the three-team trade that sent former Red Sox outfielder Andrew Benintendi to the Royals on Wednesday, Kansas City ended up trading outfield prospect Khalil Lee to the Mets.
As it turns out, though, New York was not originally involved in trade conversations between the Sox and Royals, meaning Boston was going to acquire Lee from Kansas City before flipping him to another team.
Speaking with Quinn Riley of BostonSportsWave.com on Saturday, Royals assistant general manager A.J. Picollo detailed how the three-team swap between his club, the Mets, and Red Sox came to be.
“That was something that the Red Sox had orchestrated themselves, and informed us about a day before the trade that they were probably going to trade Khalil Lee to another team,” Picollo said. “And then as we got down to the last hours before the trade was finalized, they told us that he was going to be going to the New York Mets. Sometimes those three-team deals, all three teams are involved to make it work and in this case, it was really just us and the Red Sox, and then the Red Sox trying to be creative and improve their system. They had the idea that we could maybe trade Khalil Lee and get something else we need and they flipped him to the Mets. So, those deals are always interesting and they come together in different ways.”
Given the information provided by Picollo here, it seems more like the Red Sox traded Benintendi (and $2.8 million of his 2021 salary) to the Royals in exchange for Lee, Franchy Cordero, and two players to be named later, then traded Lee to the Mets in exchange for right-handed pitching prospect Josh Winckowski and one player to be named later.
Just this past Friday, Mets acting general manager — and former Red Sox assistant GM — Zack Scott told reporters that New York acquiring Lee in the first place was more capitalizing on an opportunity as opposed to something that came together more formally.
“It was an opportunity. We didn’t have direct conversations with Kansas City on that,” Scott said. “They were obviously looking for a major-league player to add to their roster, so that wasn’t going to be necessarily where we were going to match up. With my connections to Boston, quite frankly they know that I like Khalil Lee as a prospect from when I was there. He was someone we had talked about, and I knew they liked Khalil Lee as well.
“Just they reached out and asked if there would be interest here, and we were excited and I know our pro scouts here really like the player,” he continued.”[Lee’s] got a lot to like, a lot of tools and athleticism. We like a lot of things about his performance as well. That was how that came about, just that kind of conversation. I believe in being pretty active in talking to other teams because you never know what ideas might come up in those conversations, especially the informal ones. And that was one of those cases.”
Lee, 22, was regarded by MLB Pipeline as the Royals No. 8 prospect.
The former 2016 third-round draft pick spent the entirety of the 2020 season at Kansas City’s alternate training site. In his most recent organized minor-league action, Lee slashed .264/.363/.372 with eight home runs, 51 RBI, and 53 stolen bases over 129 games for Double-A Northwest Arkansas in 2019.
Rather than take on Lee in a straight swap with the Royals, the Red Sox, as previously mentioned, opted to flip the speedy outfielder to the Mets in exchange for Winckowski and two additional players to be named later.
Winckowski, 22, posted a 2.69 ERA and .231 batting average against over 24 appearances (23 starts) and 127 1/3 innings pitched between Class-A Lansing and High-A Dunedin in 2019, when he was still a member of the Blue Jays’ organization.
Since that time, the 6-foot-4 righty was not added to Toronto’s 60-man player pool at any point last year and was promptly traded to the Mets along with two other pitchers in exchange for veteran southpaw Steven Matz in late January.
Prior to his being traded to Boston earlier this week, Winckowski had been regarded by MLB Pipeline as New York’s No. 26 prospect.
Because they essentially traded Lee to the Mets for Winckowski and a player to be named later, it seems like there’s a solid chance that PTBNL could be someone significant given Lee’s standing as a sought-after prospect.
That being said, it will likely be a while before the Red Sox decide on which two PTBNLs from the Royals and one PTBNL from the Mets they will be acquiring.
“I don’t want to get into too many specifics on it, but the specific identities of the players are still to be determined,” Red Sox chief baseball officer Chaim Bloom said late Wednesday night. “We have frameworks in place with the clubs as to how and when we are going to do that. But, there’s not names of the players that we are getting that we are involved with right now.”
The process for trades involving players to be named later can take as long as six months to play out, so it is not like Bloom and Co. will be in a rush to get this done.
As a matter of fact, according to The Athletic’s Peter Gammons, the Red Sox have a list of four Royals minor-leaguers to choose from as their players to be named later from Kansas City. After the first month of the minor-league season, they can then choose any two players from that list.
Who will those two players from the Royals — and one from the Mets — be? Only time will tell.
(Picture of Khalil Lee: Jamie Squire/Getty Images)