Ten Kansas City Royals players, including four of their top hitters and two of their best starting pitchers this season, will not travel to Toronto this week for the four-game series with the Blue Jays because they have not received the COVID-19 vaccination.
The vaccine requirement for border crossing into Canada will affect outfielder Andrew Benintendi, super-utilityman Whit Merrifield, catcher MJ Melendez, first baseman/outfielder Hunter Dozier, right-hander Brad Keller, right-hander Brady Singer, center fielder Michael A. Taylor, outfielder Kyle Isbel, reliever Dylan Coleman and catcher Cam Gallagher.
“At the end of the day, it’s their choice,” Royals president of baseball operations Dayton Moore said Wednesday. “It’s what they decide to do. And we’ve always been an organization that promotes and encourages individual choices. Unfortunately, some of this affects the team. We’re disappointed in some of that, but we realize it’s part of the game and part of the world we live in. We’re just really looking forward to providing these players an opportunity who are getting a chance to play in Toronto.”
Players who are unvaccinated and don’t make the trip to Toronto are placed on the restricted list and forfeit service time and salary for the four games missed. Prior to Kansas City, the most players a team had missed in Toronto was four, and 25 total players had hit the restricted list due to being unvaccinated.
“Right or wrong, I didn’t do it on a whim,” Merrifield told reporters. “It’s been a long thought process, because I understand what Canada has in place right now. That’s the only reason I would think about getting it at this point, is to go to Canada. That might change down the road. If 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, my teammates support me, support the rest of the guys in here who have made that decision, and that’s that.”
Benintendi is the only 2022 All-Star in the group. The Royals, with a 35-53 record after beating Detroit on Wednesday afternoon, have explored trading the 28-year-old, who is batting .317 and due to hit free agency this winter.
“For me, it was a personal decision. And I’m going to leave it at that,” Benintendi said in a statement, according to The Athletic.
Melendez, a rookie, batted leadoff the past two days as Merrifield, whose 553-game Iron Man streak came to an end because of a toe injury, sat out. Dozier has regularly served as the Royals’ cleanup hitter. The only vaccinated outfielder on the Royals’ active roster is Edward Olivares.
Kansas City will summon reinforcements from its AAA and AA affiliates to fill out the big league roster. The Royals’ series at Toronto begins Thursday.