KANSAS CITY -- The Royals will be without 10 regular players for their four-game series in Toronto beginning Thursday because they are not vaccinated against COVID-19, which is required before entering Canada.
Infielders Whit Merrifield and Hunter Dozier; outfielders Andrew Benintendi, Michael A. Taylor and Kyle Isbel; catchers MJ Melendez and Cam Gallagher; starting pitchers Brad Keller and Brady Singer; and reliever Dylan Coleman were placed on the restricted list, meaning they will lose pay and service time for four days, the club announced Wednesday. The Royals will also be without some coaches, although names were not revealed Wednesday.
The Royals have held meetings with players to educate and encourage vaccinations.
“Our guys have done an incredible job for the last year and a half -- our medical team, our coaching staff, our front office personnel -- of doing our best to educate everybody in our organization, and provide them with the necessary guidance, giving them the proper amount of space and grace along the way to make very informed decisions,” Royals president of baseball operations Dayton Moore said to a small group of reporters on Wednesday. “But at the end of the day, it’s their choice. 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.”
Seven of the 10 unvaccinated players spoke with media following Wednesday’s game. All cited their personal choice to not get the vaccine and said they received support from their vaccinated teammates and the organization.
Merrifield (right toe bone bruise) and Taylor (right shoulder soreness) have dealt with injuries this week, although the Royals did not think either required an IL stint and instead have played short on their bench. Merrifield said he might have been ready to play by the end of the series in Toronto if he could travel.
The super-utilityman cited research and conversations that led to his decision to not get the vaccine. Merrifield also said he would think about getting the vaccine in the future because of his strong desire to play in the postseason, whether that is for the Royals (who are 35-53 this season) or another team.
"Right or wrong, I didn't do it on a whim,” Merrifield said. “It's been a long thought process. Because I understand what Canada has in place right now. That's the only reason that I would think about getting it at this point, is to go to Canada. That might change down the road. 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 in my decision, my teammates support me, support the rest of the guys in here who have made that decision, and that's that."
Singer pitched Wednesday and would not have been lined up to pitch in Toronto anyway, but by placing him on the restricted list, the Royals reduced the number of active pitchers on the roster.
Benintendi -- the Royals’ lone All-Star and top potential trade candidate this season -- Dozier and Melendez would have likely played all four games, as would Isbel in Taylor’s place in center field. Edward Olivares is the only vaccinated primary outfielder on the Royals’ roster right now, although Ryan O’Hearn can play right field.
“It was a personal decision, and I’m going to leave it at that,” Benintendi said.
The Royals' medical staff had several conversations with players about getting the vaccine. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) states that vaccines are safe, effective and have greatly reduced or eliminated many infectious diseases that once routinely killed or harmed children and adults.
The CDC recommends the COVID-19 vaccine for everyone ages 6 months and older to reduce the severity of COVID-19 cases that have led to hospitalizations and deaths over the past two years. From April 4-30 2022, the most recent data available by the CDC, unvaccinated people aged 5 years and older had 1.9 times the risk of testing positive for COVID-19 and six times the risk of dying from the virus compared to people vaccinated with at least a primary series of the vaccine.
At least 222.5 million people have been fully vaccinated for COVID-19 in the U.S., according to CDC data published by the Washington Post.
“Me personally, I don’t do any vaccines,” Dozier said. “I live a healthy lifestyle. I eat healthy, I work out. I want my body to naturally fight stuff off. I’m not against vaccines, so it’s just a personal preference. I’m not judging anyone who wanted to get it or who didn’t want to get it.”
He added that the group of unvaccinated Royals had conversations with their vaccinated teammates about the decision to miss games.
“I don’t think we’ve ever dealt with anything like this, where we’re being forced to take a vaccine just to go play over in Toronto. It’s a weird situation. It’s unfortunate. But I didn’t want to put something in my body that I didn’t fully believe in.
“They’ve given us the ability to get vaccinated. We’ve chosen not to.”
The absence of both Melendez, the Royals’ rookie catcher who said he made the decision with his family, and Gallagher opens the door for two inexperienced catchers to handle the pitching staff for four days.
Coleman -- who said he thought about getting the vaccine as the Toronto trip got closer but ultimately decided against it -- has been used in high-leverage situations out of the bullpen.
Keller was lined up to pitch Saturday. His spot can be replaced on Friday, four days after he last pitched.
“I wish the circumstances were different,” Keller said when asked how he felt about missing a start. “Just tough because last year we were allowed up there and this year we’re not. I’d love to be up there, and I love competing. I wish we were able to do that.”
Manager Mike Matheny said he will announce the team's rotation plans on Thursday, as well as the replacement player list and taxi squad, which is sure to include several prospects and players the Royals view as crucial to their future.
By placing players on the restricted list, the Royals do not have to count them toward the 40-man roster. They can bring up non-40 man roster players as replacements, which opens the door to promoting more Minor League players than usual.
“It is an individual choice,” Matheny said. “The organization has done a real good job of bringing in professionals and experts to talk guys through tough conversations and put it in their hands to make the decision that they believe is best for them and their family.
“Do we want our Major League team on the field? The answer is yes. But right now, this is the situation that we’re in, and we’re looking forward to somebody else stepping in and making most of the opportunity.”