KC Royals: Vax status may point to bigger problem

(Photo by Ed Zurga/Getty Images)
(Photo by Ed Zurga/Getty Images) /

The KC Royals’ 2022 shortcomings are obvious from the standings. They’re in last place in the American League Central, a division they’ve won just once in 35 years, and this season doesn’t figure to be any different.

The failures of this year’s club frustrate the club and fans. The way the team has played, and the personnel decisions it’s made and not made, have not been without controversy.

Another controversy hit Kansas City Wednesday. Ahead of the club’s road trip to Toronto that begins tonight, and consistent with Canadian laws barring unvaccinated persons from entering the country, KC will move 10 players to the Restricted List, meaning they won’t make the trip … and won’t get paid.

According to ESPN’s Jeff Passan, the number of Royals whose vaccination status means they can’t play in Toronto is nearly one-half of all major leaguers who previously hadn’t been able to face the Blue Jays at home:

Unfortunately, almost 40% of Kansas City’s active roster will miss the trip, meaning these Royals stand out again, and in an unfortunate way. After all, the two clubs with the most wins in the majors haven’t had this problem—the AL East-leading Yankees were able to take their entire active roster to Toronto earlier this season. So, reportedly, were the Astros.

Why will the KC Royals be without so many players against the Blue Jays?

What mustn’t be lost in the firestorm of media and social media reaction to this situation is the club’s reported efforts to avoid it. President of Baseball Operations Dayton Moore and his staff can’t force players to get vaccinated without the consent of the Major League Baseball Players Association, and that hasn’t happened. Moore, as reported by the Kansas City Star’s Sam McDowell, said as much:

"“I’m very disappointed we don’t have many of our everyday players with us in Toronto,” Royals president of baseball operations Dayton Moore said. “That’s disappointing to our organization; that’s disappointing to our clubhouse; and that’s disappointing our fans. At the end of the day, we can’t make anybody get a vaccination.”"

McDowell also reported in his story that General Manager J.J. Picollo and members of the training staff recently but unsuccessfully offered up a final attempt to reopen the vaccination discussion. And according to Sports Illustrated’s Stephanie Apstein, the club made doctors available to players and has even sent staff from the University of Kansas Health System to vaccinate players at their homes.

Why haven’t the team’s efforts worked? The answer may lie somewhere in Kansas City’s losing culture. The Yankees and Astros share a common goal: winning a World Series in 2022, while the Royals no longer have any reasonable expectation of even making the playoffs. That raises the possibility that, with so much past and present losing, some players might be perceived as putting themselves ahead of the team.

The story surrounding the KC Royals is about much more than vaccination.

Comments Merrifield and Moore have made about the vaccination situation may be instructive. In her story, SI’s Apstein reported Merrifield saying:

"“The only reason that I would think about getting [the vaccine] at this point is to go to Canada. That might change down the road. Something happens and I happen to get on a team that has a chance to go play in Canada in the postseason, maybe that changes. But as we sit here right now, I’m comfortable with my decision.”"

She also reported Moore saying, “I think if our team was in a different part of the standings, I think it would be different.” That makes two Royals with leadership roles who’ve mentioned winning in correlation with vaccination status.

Merrifield’s comments seem to suggest that he’d get vaccinated if the team was winning, or if the Royals moved him to a contending club. Moore seems to imply that player decisions might have been different if the club was winning. Did these Royals enter the season expecting to lose? If they were contending, would the players have been more apt to put the team’s interests above their own?

This situation may have far-reaching implications for the KC Royals.

Kansas City has missed the playoffs 33 times in the last 35 seasons; that number will grow to 34 in the last 36 this year. And as the franchise works to change that, the present vaccination status issue may well have impacts during and beyond the present campaign

Royals sitting out the Toronto trip include potential trade chips Merrifield, Benintendi, and Taylor. The news they’re unvaccinated, and thus unable to play in Toronto unless and until they’re vaccinated, means their value to possible trade partners—and the Royals themselves—are probably diluted.

Why, for example, would American League teams risk acquiring unvaccinated Royals at the trade deadline if they stand to lose them during a key stretch run series in Toronto or in the playoffs? The Blue Jays, after all, have an excellent shot at postseason play because they currently hold one of the three AL Wild Card slots. That means the Royals will likely get less in return in any deals they might still be able to make involving their unvaccinated stars.

The end result? These unvaccinated Royals may have dealt blows to their careers and, in the process, damaged their team’s prospects for the future.

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The Royals will be missing 10 players in Toronto.