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The ten biggest Royals stories of 2022

It was a pretty eventful year!

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Kansas City Royals Introduce Matt Quatraro as Manager Photo by Ed Zurga/Getty Images

The year is nearly complete, and it was a pretty eventful one for Royals fans. It was another dismal losing season with 97 losses, the eleventh time in franchise history the team has lost that many games in a season and the third time in five years. But that losing brought change, and perhaps hope for better years to come.

Here are the ten biggest Royals stories of 2022.

10. The MLB lockout ends

Baseball had its longest work stoppage since 1994-95 when the owners froze transactions and locked the players out after the labor deal expired in December of 2021. The two sides didn’t begin negotiations in earnest until spring training was scheduled to begin, and it wasn’t until March 10 that they reached agreement on a new deal.

The lockout pushed back the start of spring training, and ultimately pushed back the season by a week, but all 162 games were played after some rescheduling. The new labor deal expanded the playoffs, instituted a universal DH rule, brought more money to pre-arbitration players, and attempted to discourage tanking with a lottery and incentives for bringing prospects up. But the deal did little to help small market teams or require them to spend more on players, and some clubs spent this off-season spending more than ever.

9. The Athletic details pitching development woes

The fact the Royals have struggled to develop pitching for decades was not exactly a secret, but the reasons why were made a bit more clear by a detailed article published by The Athletic in September. The piece highlighted some of the major issues with Royals pitching development over the years including a rigid, one-size-fits-all approach, a lack of transparency with players or empowering players to control their own development, and a process that was still behind the curve in what other teams were doing. The Royals would finish dead last in the league in ERA leading to some changes, but major work remains.

8. Zack Greinke returns to the Royals

The king returns! The Royals were going through a rebuild in 2022, so it was a big surprise when they signed Zack Greinke to a one-year, $13 million deal to bring the former Cy Young winner back to Kansas City. Greinke spent the first seven years of his career with the Royals before asking for a trade to a contender in 2011. But with the veteran nearing the end of his career, he sought the familiar, and a conversation with old friend George Brett got the ball rolling on a reunion. Greinke was not here for show either, leading the pitching staff in fWAR with a 3.68 ERA in 137 innings and one of the lowest walk rates in the league. As we conclude 2022, the question is will he return for one more year?

7. Andrew Benintendi traded to New York

In a vacuum, the Andrew Benintendi trade from Boston was one of the best deals in the Dayton Moore era. The Royals gave up outfielder Khalil Lee and two non-prospect pitchers to get Benintendi in February of 2021. Fresh off some disappointing but injury-filled seasons, Benintendi rebounded quite nicely, winning a Gold Glove that year, and earning his first All-Star appearance in 2022. In 227 games with the Royals he hit .294/.351/.424 and was worth 4.9 rWAR.

Despite a hot April in 2021, the Royals went nowhere in his two seasons here. Fortunately, Benintendi had a lot of trade value in July and the Royals were able to ship him to the Yankees for three minor league pitchers - Beck Way, T.J. Sikkema, and Chandler Champlain. Benintendi then cashed in with a five-year, $75 million deal to rejoin Pedro Grifol in Chicago.

6. Whit Merrifield draws backlash on vaccination comments, traded to Toronto

Merrifield was one of the more popular Royals during his time in Kansas City as an exciting leadoff man who twice led the league in hits, paced the league in steals three times, and led the league in doubles and triples once each. But the two-time All-Star had his prime years when the team was going through a rebuild, and the losing began to get to him in 2022.

The goodwill he had built up began to fritter away this year with a slumping bat and a weird clubhouse vibe, but what really irked the fanbase were comments he made in July when he couldn’t make a trip to Toronto due to his unvaccinated status. He criticized the efficacy of the vaccine for why he wouldn’t get the shot, but then stated that if “something happens and I happen to get on a team that has a chance to go play in Canada and the postseason, maybe that changes.” The comments drew backlash from fans and even General Manager Dayton Moore as an indication that the Royals were not worth getting vaccinated for, but a contender might be. Merrifield later backtracked and said his comments were “poorly articulated”, but the damage had been done. A few weeks later, Merrifield was traded to, ironically, the Toronto Blue Jays, where he finally received his vaccination.

5. Bobby Witt Jr. makes his debut

The Royals have never been a team to manipulate service time, but the new labor deal gave them even more reasons to have their top prospect Bobby Witt Jr. make the team out of spring training. In one of the most anticipated Royals debuts in recent years, Witt was in the Opening Day starting lineup at third base, hitting second.

Bobby’s first at-bat ended in a fly out, but he was saving the drama for later. In the eighth inning of a 1-1 tie game, Witt faced Cleveland pitcher Triston McKenzie with a runner at second and two outs. With fans chanting “BOB-BY! BOB-BY!”, Witt jumped on a high slider and belted it to left for an RBI double to put the Royals on top for what would eventually be a season-opening win.

4. Ten Royals players can’t travel to Toronto due to vaccination status

We returned to a bit of normalcy in 2022, but there were still some travel restrictions in place due to lingering concerns over COVID-19, specifically non-citizens traveling into Canada (and the U.S. for that matter) were required to be vaccinated. That meant that any teams traveling for a series in Toronto had to leave unvaccinated players and personnel behind. For most teams that meant a player or two, but the Royals had ten players that were unable to make the trip in addition to pitching coach Cal Eldred, hitting coach Keoni De Renne and bullpen coach Parker Morin.

The incident was an embarrassment for the Royals, but there was a silver lining when several young players were called up to make their MLB debuts to replace the absent players and defeated the Blue Jays, bringing youth and excitement to a moribund club.

3. Royals fire Mike Matheny, Cal Eldred, hire Matt Quatraro

Mike Matheny came to Kansas City having won 55 percent of his games with a pennant on his résumé. But things had gone badly at the end of his tenure in St. Louis, leading to skepticism among Royals fans. Matheny said all the right things at his opening press conference, but ultimately a lack of progress in the standings doomed him with the Royals. Matheny was dismissed after three seasons and a .430 winning percentage. While he did embrace some analytical strategies in pitcher usage and lineup creation, he fell into some of the same habits that got him fired in St. Louis, and his loyalty to pitching coach Cal Eldred despite awful results with the pitching staff seemed misplaced.

The Royals turned the page by hiring outside the organization, bringing in Tampa Bay Rays bench coach Matt Quatraro to lead the team, passing over on long-time Royals bench coach Pedro Grifol, who was hired to lead the White Sox. Quatraro has vowed to being more of an analytical approach, and has brought on new pitching coaches Brian Sweeney and Zach Bove to help him retool the pitching staff. Like Matheny, Quatraro said all the right things at his opening press conference, but ultimately he will be judged by how much he improves the team in the standings.

2. Owner John Sherman expresses intent to move team downtown

What has been rumored ever since John Sherman and his ownership group purchased the Royals moved one step closer to reality when Sherman published an open letter to fans stating his intent to relocate the team to downtown Kansas City. Sherman envisions a $2 billion ballpark district including “local restaurants and shops, office spaces, hotels, and a variety of housing opportunities” that can spur economic development downtown. Many questions remain, such as how the stadium will be paid for, where downtown it would be located, and what the timeline looks like for a new stadium. But the club has begun the process of holding open forums and doing their due diligence on a project and it looks like the wheels are turning to move the team away from Kauffman Stadium, their home for the last 49 years.

1. Royals fire Dayton Moore

The Royals were an absolute dumpster fire of an organization when Dayton Moore was offered a job to run the team in 2006, so much so, that he initially turned it down. He eventually changed his mind, but it still took several seasons for the Royals to even enjoy a winning season under his leadership. Once they began winning, however, they would not stop, going on a remarkable run that resulted in back-to-back pennants and a championship in 2015, something that seemed impossible on the day he was hired.

But All-Star pitchers eventually lose the zip on their fastballs, and Moore had trouble getting the team back to contention once he stars left after the 2017 season. Six consecutive losing seasons, including three 95+ loss seasons over that time, eventually led new owner John Sherman to make a change, firing Moore near the end of the season. It would not be a totally clean break - General Manager J.J. Picollo was retained and given the keys to run the club. Time will tell if keeping Picollo was the right call or if the club needed to completely clean house.

Others: MJ Melendez, Vinnie Pasquantino, and Nick Pratto make MLB debuts; Royals acquire three Braves prospects for a draft pick; Royals trade Carlos Santana to Seattle; Royals dismiss hitting coach Terry Bradshaw; Royals select outfielder Gavin Cross with the #9 overall pick in the draft; Royals sign Jordan Lyles; Steve Physioc retires; Ryan O’Hearn designated for assignment