George Brett is without a doubt the best player in Kansas City Royals history. His 21 seasons with the team are the most any player has been with the Royals and his accolades over that span are unparalleled. He is also the only Royal in the Hall of Fame. With that in mind, who will be the next Royal to join him? In my opinion… Bobby Witt Jr.? Let's be realistic here: nobody on the current roster is going to sniff the Hall. Zack Greinke will make the Hall but the team he represents is questionable. Ditto Carlos Beltran. Mike Sweeney’s time on the ballot was short-lived. Alex Gordon is a major longshot as well.
So instead, let’s consider who might make it into the Royals Hall of Fame. There are currently 18 players enshrined in the Royals Hall of Fame for, according to the Hall’s website, "exceptional contributions to Kansas City Royals baseball, both on and off the field."
Before we start looking at possible future Royals Hall of Famers, we’re going to briefly look over the players currently in the Hall to get an idea of what it takes to get in. I cannot easily evaluate a player’s off-field contributions to Royals baseball, so I will stick with what they did on the field. Each player will be listed with the number of seasons played for the Royals, WAR, wRC+/ERA-, and any accolades that player earned, such as silver sluggers or all-star selections, while with the Royals. WAR figures will be an average of fWAR and bWAR.
Steve Busby, SP: 8 seasons, 15.7 WAR, 97 ERA-, 2x All-Star, 2 no-hitters, Royals lifer
Frank White Jr., 2B: 18 seasons, 33.0 WAR, 84 wRC+, 5x All-Star, ALCS MVP (1980), 1x silver slugger, 8x gold glove, Royals lifer
Bret Saberhagen, SP: 8 seasons, 38.9 WAR, 78 ERA-. World Series MVP (1985), 3x All-Star, 2x Cy Young, 1x gold glove, no-hitter
Amos Otis, OF: 14 seasons, 42.5 WAR, 118 wRC+ 5x All-Star, 3x gold glove
Dennis Leonard, SP: 12 seasons, 29.3 WAR, 93 ERA-, Royals lifer
Larry Gura, SP: 10 seasons, 16.1 WAR, 92 ERA-, 1x All-Star
Willie Wilson, OF: 15 seasons, 38.8 WAR, 95 wRC+, 2x All-Star, 1x silver slugger, 2x gold glove
Mark Gubizca, SP: 13 seasons, 38.4 WAR, 91 ERA-, 2x All-Star
Mike Sweeney, 1B/DH: 13 seasons, 21.8 WAR, 118 wRC+, 5x All-Star
Cookie Rojas, 2B: 8 seasons, 6.9 WAR, 88 wRC+, 4x All-Star
Hal McRae, OF/DH: 15 seasons, 27.6 WAR, 125 wRC+, 3x All-Star, 1x silver slugger
John Mayberry, 1B/DH: 6 seasons, 21.9 WAR, 133 wRC+, 2x All-Star
Jeff Montgomery, RP: 12 seasons, 16.5 WAR, 71 ERA-, 3x All-Star, 1x Rolaids Relief Man
Paul Splittorff, SP: 15 seasons, 26.9 WAR, 99 ERA-, Royals lifer
Freddie Patek, SS : 9 seasons, 19.3 WAR, 79 wRC+, 3x All-Star
George Brett, 3B: 21 seasons, 85.6 WAR, 132 wRC+, 13x All-Star, MVP (1980), ALCS MVP (1985), 1x gold glove, 3x silver slugger
Dan Quisenberry, RP: 10 seasons, 19.5 WAR, 62 ERA-, 3x All-Star, 5x Rolaids Relief Man
Kevin Appier, SP: 13 seasons, 44.0 WAR, 75 ERA-, 1x All-Star
This is just a quick and dirty analysis, but this shows there are a few different ways to earn induction in the Royals Hall of Fame. Spending an entire career with the team with modest to good production (Busby, Leonard, White, Splittorff), a short but excellent career with the team (Saberhagen, Mayberry), a long and productive career with the team (Otis, Gubizca, Sweeney, McRae, Appier), or many years of excellent pitching out of the bullpen (Montgomery, Quisenberry). Based only on the numbers, Rojas, Patek, Gura are anomalies. They all fall well short of the 30.2 average Royals Hall of Fame WAR, as well as the average tenure of 12.2 seasons with the Royals. Perhaps these guys were inducted more for their off-field contributions. (I would like to note that, based on Cookie’s Royals career, Alcides Escobar would have been a regular all-star if he played in the 70’s.) It is also worth noting that the bias towards earlier players in the National Baseball Hall of Fame may be at play here, as only Sweeney, Montgomery, and Appier did not play during or before the 1985 season. This may also simply reflect the quality of the Royals before and after 1985.
Sweeney was the last active Royal in the Hall and he took his last at-bat for the Royals in 2007. Let’s get somebody else in there! Here are some players that have played for the Royals since 2007 that may have a shot at the Hall, as well as the same qualifications as listed for the players above.
Alex Gordon, OF: 14 seasons, 33.8 WAR, 102 wRC+, 3x All-Star, 8x gold glove, 2x platinum glove, Royals lifer
Let’s get this out of the way right now: Alex Gordon will be inducted in the Royals Hall of Fame. This is a matter of when, not if. His WAR would place him 7th in the Hall and he has the accolades and tenure to back it up. It’s easy to envision Gordon getting a statue at Kauffman Stadium someday.
David DeJesus, OF: 8 seasons, 18.9 WAR, 108 wRC+
DeJesus was one of the few bright spots on some bad Royals teams from 2003-2010. DeJesus was having the finest season of his career in 2010 with an OPS of .827 in 91 games before suffering a season ending injury. DeJesus may have looked like an All-Star relative to the alternatives (Hello, Willie Bloomquist), but he was really more of a solid regular than a star. It is certainly possible, but it’s tough to see him getting into the Hall.
Joakim Soria, RP: 7 seasons, 12 WAR, 65 ERA-, 2x All-Star
Speaking of bright spots from the late 2000’s Royals, Soria was a rousing success as a Rule-5 pick of the Royals. He had an ERA below 2.50 each year from 2007-2010 and was as low as 1.60 in 2008 (did you know Soria finished 19th in AL MVP voting in 2010? I did not). His second stint with the Royals in 2016-2017 seemed disastrous compared to his first, but he was still an above average reliever based on ERA-. Soria compares favorable to Montgomery and Quisenberry (ignoring WAR, since it is not very useful for evaluating relievers), though his Royals tenure was considerably shorter than theirs. He has an outside shot at the Hall.
Greg Holland, RP: 7 seasons, 11.2 WAR, 59 ERA-, 2x All-Star, 1x Mariano Rivera AL Reliever of the Year (2014)
Holland’s case may be even stronger than Soria’s. He will continue to add to these numbers in 2021. This season Holland can close the gap between himself and Monty and Quis, or perhaps the wheels fall off and he’s DFA’d in July. Regardless, the six full seasons and one covid season he has had with the Royals have been superb, with an ERA under 2 in three of those seasons. This one is too early to call.
I would love to make a section here for Wade Davis but having played only 4 seasons for the team I don’t think he really has a case. Regardless, 2014-2016 Wade Davis was one of the most dominating runs by a reliever ever seen in the sport.
Salvador Perez, C: 9 seasons, 18.1 WAR, 99 wRC+, 6x All-Star, 5x gold glove, 3x silver slugger, World Series MVP (2015), Royals lifer (so far)
Statistically, Perez has an interesting case. A 99 wRC+ is not exceptional overall, but league average offensive production is more than can be asked from most catchers. Baseball-Reference and Fangraphs disagree strongly on his value, as B-R credits him with 24.2 career WAR, while Fangraphs gives Perez just 11.9 WAR. Frankly, though, I do not believe these stats are particularly relevant to his case. Perez is a beloved player that could be argued as the face of the franchise. He has tenure and he has the hardware. I think Perez has a strong case to be the first catcher inducted in the Royals Hall of Fame.
Danny Duffy, SP: 10 seasons, 16.2 WAR, 94 ERA-, Royals lifer (so far)
Duffy may be best known for bear-related garments and "Bury me a Royal," but he is also currently the longest-tenured player on the roster (he and Perez debuted in 2011 but Perez missed all of 2019 with injury). Duffy has never received MVP or Cy Young votes, nor has he ever made an All-Star team. Aside from 2014-2017 – a stretch in which Duffy started between 24 and 26 games each season with a stellar 83 ERA- - Duffy has had pedestrian numbers for his career. His off-field issues may hamper his case as well. He may have a shot at the Hall in the mold of Leonard or Split by spending his entire career with the team, but I wouldn't consider it likely.
Lorenzo Cain, OF: 7 seasons, 22.4 WAR, 107 wRC+, 1x All-Star, ALCS MVP (2014)
Cain, Eric Hosmer, and Mike Moustakas each played 7 seasons for the Royals (well ok, 7.5 for Moustakas). The only position player in the Hall with a shorter tenure was John Mayberry, and he averaged over 3 WAR per season with well above average offensive numbers. Hosmer may have the hardware, and Moustakas the short-lived team home run record, but I will only make an argument for Cain as his production was easily the best of the three. With his bat-to-ball skills, speed, and defense in center field, Cain was one of the American League’s premier centerfielders and finished 3rd in MVP voting in 2015. He accrued 22.4 WAR despite playing in more than 100 games in only five out of his seven seasons with the team and more than 130 games just three times. Had he stayed healthy these numbers could be even more impressive, and perhaps he would not have been repeatedly snubbed for gold gloves. I don’t believe Cain’s chances are exceptional, but I wouldn’t be surprised to see him eventually inducted.
To the six people that read this, what are your thoughts? Which of these players will eventually see the Hall? Is there anybody with a strong case that I missed? Why do you believe Frank Schwindel, Dusty Coleman, and Aaron Brooks should be inducted? Share your thoughts in the comments!