Tolerant toughness is an essential trait of serious KC Royals fans. Not since 2015, when the club won its second World Series title, has Kansas City enjoyed a winning season; before then, the Royals gave their fanbase only eight such campaigns after winning their second Fall Classic in 1985. And anyone who stuck by the Royals this year as they tied the franchise record for most losses in a season had to be tough.
But things other than winning, especially the excellent performances of Bobby Witt Jr., Maikel Garcia, and Cole Ragans, provided some relief for KC fans who unfortunately know losing baseball as well as the backs of their hands. Also soothing was the special treat the Royals dished up for the past two seasons — the opportunity to watch a potential Hall of Fame catcher work with an almost certain Hall of Fame pitcher.
Now, though, no one knows whether Salvador Perez, the catcher, and Zack Greinke, the pitcher, will team up again. Speculation that KC may be shopping Perez bubbled up during the midseason trade deadline period and continues to this day; Greinke becomes a free agent the day after the World Series concludes and, after his 2-15 season, retirement seems a reasonable option. Both veterans could be gone when the club opens the 2024 season in late March.
And if they move on, the Royals will lose more than just a couple of players.
Losing Salvador Perez and Zack Greinke could leave KC short on leadership
That these two batterymates are invaluable leaders is beyond question. Perez has been the club's undisputed leader since the departures of Eric Hosmer and Mike Moustakas, and was named team captain just hours before the 2023 season began. Greinke has been, by all accounts, a highly respected teacher and mentor of the Royals' young pitchers, a colleague whose insight and advice they covet.
So it is that Perez and Greinke leaving, if they do, will create a leadership gap of no small proportion.
Why? The Royals under General Manager J.J. Picollo are a team in transition, one moving away from veterans and toward younger and more inexperienced players whose leadership hasn't been significantly tested. Witt may be the best candidate for an immediate leadership role, but strong leadership doesn't necessarily follow from being a team's best player. Time will tell in Witt's case.
The Royals could reach into their past and lure either Hosmer or Moustakas back to Kansas City. Both are proven leaders who would enjoy instant credibility with Kansas City players who know them primarily from the high-profile roles they played on the 2014 and 2015 teams.
Neither, however, could fill meaningful playing roles. The Royals look set with Vinnie Pasquantino at first base, Hosmer's position, and although Moustakas is more versatile — he's played third, second, and first since leaving the Royals — they have Garcia at third and Michael Massey at second, and Nick Loftin can play all over the infield. Hosmer also hasn't played since the Cubs released him in May and Moustakas isn't the hitter he used to be. Picollo can't afford to bring players aboard who won't play.
Bottom line? Whether Perez or Greinke, or both, will be Royals next season won't be known for some time. We've said before that the club shouldn't trade Perez and, although it might be best for Greinke to move on, he and the team may feel another season with him in the fold could be mutually beneficial,
If they don't return, on-field and clubhouse leadership will suffer, and tough to fill will be the leadership roles they've played.