Martín Maldonado, a competent and capable major league catcher, helped the KC Royals when they most needed his assistance. The year was 2019, the setting spring training: Salvador Perez had just undergone Tommy John Surgery, and the Royals desperately needed a front-line backstop to replace him.
Enter Maldonado, then an unsigned Gold Glove free agent with eight years behind the big league dish. The Royals grabbed him up with a one-year contract, giving them a proven catcher for the season Perez had to miss.
And although he didn't hit like Perez (.227 with six homers and 17 RBI in 74 games), he was more than just serviceable behind the plate. Not surprisingly, though, especially considering the temporary nature of his assignment, the single-season deal he'd signed, and Kansas City's midseason status as a non-contender, he found himself shipped to the Cubs in July. Chicago soon dealt him to Houston, where he finished the campaign, played four more seasons, and won a World Series ring.
Maldonado became a free agent after last season and has apparently landed back in Chicago, this time with the White Sox, with whom he reportedly has a one-year $4 million contract that includes a 2025 vesting option worth an equal amount.
But for Kansas City fans, there is more to the arrangement than just a former Royal joining up with an American League Central rival. The Maldonado signing adds to the Royals flavor Chicago has been taking on in the 14 months since then-Kansas City bench coach Pedro Grifol left to manage the Sox.
Chicago is making a habit of acquiring former KC Royals personnel
Maldonado joins at least eight former Royals on the South Side, including the man who heads up Chicago's baseball operations, new Senior Vice President and General Manager Chris Getz. The Sox promoted Getz, in his playing days an infielder who broke in with them before hitting .248 in four seasons with the Royals, in August. Director of Player Personnel Gene Watson was a scouting-focused front office executive with Kansas City before moving to Chicago.
Getz' Kansas City career intersected with Grifol's, and he may have to make a decision about his skipper's future sooner rather than later. Grifol's first campaign as Chicago's manager went badly — only two seasons after the Sox won the AL Central under Tony La Russa, the club lost 101 games in Grifol's first season at the helm.
And working for Grifol as an assistant hitting coach is Mike Tosar, a former Kansas City hitting guru, and infield mentor Eddie Rodriguez, both of whom left the Royals and headed for Chicago with Grifol. And popular former KC backup catcher Drew Butera signed on in November to coach Chicago's catchers.
Then there are the former KC players Maldonado will join when spring training opens in mid-February. Infielder Nicky Lopez, the first Royals shortstop to hit .300 when he achieved the feat in 2021, came to the Sox as part of Chicago's early-December Aaron Bummer trade with the Braves. Lopez saw action in the 2023 playoffs with Atlanta after the Royals moved him there at the trade deadline.
Also with the White Sox is Andrew Benintendi, who won a Gold Glove and All-Star berth with Kansas City in 2021 before the club traded him to the Yankees in a 2022 trade deadline deal. He signed a five-year free agent contract with Chicago last January and hit .262 with five homers in 2023.