Andrew Benintendi, an All-Star outfielder and a possible trade goal of multiple teams ahead of next month’s deadline, is considered one of 10 Kansas City Royals players who’re unvaccinated against Covid-19 and can be placed on the restricted list before their team’s four-game series in Toronto that begins Thursday.
Along with Benintendi, the team can be without the 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 a person selection,” Matheny told reporters after his team’s 5-2 win over the Detroit Tigers on Wednesday. “The organization’s done an actual good job bringing in professionals and experts to speak guys through tough conversations after which put it of their hands to make the choices they imagine 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 depart 4 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 aren’t paid for the games they miss and don’t receive service time, which determines eligibility for salary arbitration and free agency.
A number of the affected players said they’ve been supported by their teammates though their vaccination status will cost them time with the team.
“We’ve talked to those guys, they’re not judging us in any respect,” Dozier told reporters. “They’ve our backs. I don’t think we’ve ever handled something like this, where we’re being forced to take a vaccine simply to go play over in Toronto. It’s only a weird situation. It’s unlucky.”
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 selection I made talking with my family, talking with my wife. I didn’t think that the danger was price it, truthfully.”
Singer, a right-hander who allowed one run in six innings on Wednesday, wouldn’t have been scheduled to pitch in Toronto no matter his vaccination status. However the Royals will sorely miss a number of the other players, none greater than Benintendi, who raised his batting average to .317 by going 2 for 4 on Wednesday.
While being short-handed for 4 games is a problem, a more pressing concern for Kansas City, which is eighteen games under .500 this season and last within the American League Central, may very well be how this news affects Benintendi’s trade value. Seen as a goal for teams on the lookout for a hitter who puts the ball in play, Benintendi’s ineligibility for games in Toronto could complicate any potential deal.
Benintendi, 28, can be a free agent after this season. A primary-round draft pick of the Boston Red Sox in 2015 out of the University of Arkansas, he has profession highs in batting average and on-base percentage to date this season, and is hitting .414 (24 for 58) over his last 16 games. But his value is somewhat limited because he doesn’t provide much by way of power, baserunning or defense.
The Blue Jays, meanwhile, have some drama of their very own ahead of the series, with the team having announced the firing of Manager Charlie Montoyo on Wednesday. Montoyo was popular amongst players, media and the fans, but Toronto got here into the season with World Series aspirations and has so far underperformed with a record of 46-42 that had them 15.5 games behind the Yankees within 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 A.L.’s third and final wild-card spot after winning the primary game of a doubleheader with Washington, 6-4, on Wednesday. Then Seattle broke that tie by winning the night cap, 2-1, and increasing its winning streak to 10 games. Toronto matched the Mariners at 47-42 by beating Philadelphia, 8-2.