Andrew Benintendi, an All-Star outfielder and a potential trade target of multiple teams ahead of next month’s deadline, is one of 10 Kansas City Royals players who are unvaccinated against Covid-19 and will be placed on the restricted list before their team’s four- game series in Toronto that begins Thursday.
In addition to Benintendi, the team will be without utility players Whit Merrifield and Hunter Dozier; catchers Cam Gallagher and MJ Melendez; outfielders Michael A. Taylor and Kyle Isbel; and pitchers Brady Singer, Brad Keller and Dylan Coleman, Royals Manager Mike Matheny said.
“It’s an individual choice,” Matheny told reporters after his team’s 5-2 win over the Detroit Tigers on Wednesday. “The organization’s done a real good job bringing in professionals and experts to talk guys through tough conversations and then put it in their hands to make the decisions they believe is best for them and their families.”
Before the Royals’ upcoming series in Toronto, Canada’s vaccination requirements had led to only 25 players across the league being placed on the restricted list. Most recently, the visiting Philadelphia Phillies were forced to leave four players behind. The Royals will dramatically expand that list, with nearly 40 percent of their 26-man roster having been ruled ineligible. The team will fill out its roster using players from the minor leagues.
Players on the restricted list are not paid for the games they miss and do not receive service time, which determines eligibility for salary arbitration and free agency.
Some of the affected players said they have been supported by their teammates even though their vaccination status will cost them time with the team.
“We’ve talked to these guys, they’re not judging us at all,” Dozier told reporters. “They have our backs. I don’t think we’ve ever dealt with something like this, where we’re being forced to take a vaccine just to go play over in Toronto. It’s just a weird situation. It’s unfortunate.”
Merrifield, a two-time All-Star who has been struggling this season and is working his way through a toe injury, added: “It was a choice I made talking with my family, talking with my wife. I didn’t think that the risk was worth it, honestly.”
Singer, a right-hander who allowed one run in six innings on Wednesday, would not have been scheduled to pitch in Toronto regardless of his vaccination status. But the Royals will sorely miss some of the other players, none more than Benintendi, who raised his batting average to .317 by going 2 for 4 on Wednesday.
While being short-handed for four games is an issue, a more pressing concern for Kansas City, which is 18 games under .500 this season and last in the American League Central, could be how this news affects Benintendi’s trade value. Seen as a target for teams looking for a hitter who puts the ball in play, Benintendi’s ineligibility for games in Toronto could complicate any potential deal.
Benintendi, 28, will be a free agent after this season. A first-round draft pick of the Boston Red Sox in 2015 out of the University of Arkansas, he has career highs in batting average and on-base percentage so far this season, and is hitting .414 (24 for 58) over his last 16 games. But his value is somewhat limited because he does not provide much in terms of power, baserunning or defense.
The Blue Jays, meanwhile, have some drama of their own ahead of the series, with the team having announced the firing of Manager Charlie Montoyo on Wednesday. Montoyo was popular among players, media and the fans, but Toronto came into the season with World Series aspirations and has thus far underperformed with a record of 46-42 that had them 15.5 games behind the Yankees in the American League East entering Wednesday. Montoyo, hired before the 2019 season, went 236-236.
The Seattle Mariners were in a virtual tie with Toronto for the AL’s third and final wild-card spot after winning the first game of a doubleheader with Washington, 6-4, on Wednesday. Then Seattle broke that tie by winning the night cap, 2-1, and extending its winning streak to 10 games.