Fourth of July. Fireworks. Outdoor grilling. Pool adventures. Family. Not really the biggest Fourth of July celebrant growing up (I usually had to work setting up fireworks stands or working the warehouse during the holiday as a summer job back in college when I came home to Sacramento), I have found that the Midwest, Kansas City specifically, relishes and does up the holiday more than I’m used to. And it’s not a bad thing by any means. It is definitely one of the positives of Kansas City that has grown on me in my seven-plus years here in this city.
However, early on the Fourth, my excitement for America’s birthday was tempered by this news:
And just like that, my feelings not just about the holiday, but the upcoming season have dampened. Granted, I think baseball will start at the end of July, and I think we will see a Royals team that will be motivated to do well and may surprise out of the gate. But it’s hard to be too optimistic when you see news like Salvy’s as well as the most recent statement from David Price opting to sit out the rest of 2020 due to COVID concerns. Price won’t be the last to do this, and it will be interesting to see who else follows his lead and elects to sit out during this anxiety-inducing time for baseball players and fans alike.
With all this going on, and probably with more cases to be on the way, it made me think this: Royals fans should temper the expectations a bit in terms of what this season could be not just for the Royals, but baseball overall.
In many ways, the positive COVID test for Salvy is another tough break on what has been a frustrating year for the Royals captain. After having to miss all of 2019 due to recovery from Tommy John surgery, Salvy came back ready to go for the upcoming 2020 season, ready to prove that he can be one of the best catchers in the American League again after a long hiatus. However, his return to Kauffman was initially delayed, with Spring Training being stopped due to COVID. And if that was not enough, even when MLB comes to an agreement for a return, with camp beginning in July, Salvy will have to wait again, as his positive COVID test will put him out two weeks at the very least.
At least, despite all these setbacks since Spring Training of 2019, Salvy has been able to stay positive and optimistic, not easy to do considering what he has faced over the past year.
The Salvy positive test however is a gut punch for Royals fans though in a myriad of ways. First off, this will make the roster and catcher situation very interesting. At first, with the rosters being expanded to 30, and with Salvy seemingly healthy and ready to go full-time behind the plate (though it seems like the Royals are more willing to be prudent and want him to take some time throughout the year at first base), it seemed like the Royals would be fine going with an extra infielder such as Erick Mejia or Matt Reylnods instead of a third catcher on the roster. Originally, it was expected that Cam Gallagher and Meibrys Viloria would be battling it out for the backup catcher position, with the odd man out being on the taxi squad to start the year. However, with Salvy’s health and being ready to start the year on time in limbo, it seems almost like a given that Viloria and Gallagher will both be on the roster, which will give the Royals less utility depth off the bench on the 30-man roster to start the year.
While it’s not necessarily a bad thing that Viloria and Gallagher will be up in Kansas City to start the season, it may be a missed opportunity for the Royals. Gallagher has the lower ceiling than Viloria, as Gallagher may just simply be a good catcher who can frame well, but really can’t provide much upside the plate in terms of contact and power. Furthermore, Viloria may turn into a Salvy 2.0, but he needs more development behind the plate, especially in regard to framing and some technical work could have helped him before he would be eventually called up in 2020. Unfortunately, with Salvy being sidelined due to COVID, Viloria will be thrust into Royals catcher the mix, which will make it tough for Viloria to develop his defensive skills, framing, or plate discipline in a low-stakes environment. Yes, Viloria has talent, but it’s hard to see him truly work on things to get better if he is with the 30-man, and only seeing game action every 2-3 days while splitting the job with Gallagher for the time being.
Without a doubt, what the Royals will do with their catching will one of the more important developments to follow during “Summer Camp”, and how fast Salvy recovers and returns could have a major impact on the Royals’ chances of making the playoffs (even if it is still pretty slim).
Salvy has not been the only Royal to contract COVID, as new manager Mike Matheny also tested positive for COVID over a month ago according to Royals MLB.com writer Jeff Flanagan:
Yes, Matheny did recover, and he has done everything right in this return to baseball: he made sure to properly quarantine when he tested positive, and he is constantly in a mask, showing how seriously he takes this situation. To see a key figure of the Royals franchise show off and harp on the importance of wearing a mask to the ballpark every day is huge, especially considering there are many communities in Kansas and Missouri who are still bucking and resisting mandates to wear a mask in public. While it may not convince the most fervent “mask conspirator”, Matheny setting the example could resonate with hardcore Royals fans, especially since KC seems to revere and trust their sports figures more often than sports fans in other major cities.
That being said, despite Salvy’s optimism and Matheny’s realism, it’s hard to get too excited about the road ahead looks like in 2020 as a Royals fan. What will happen if other Royals test positive? What will happen if other players from others teams test positive and they pass it to a Royals player during a game? What happens if a Royals stadium worker gets it and passes it on to a player? Yes, I know the Royals and other MLB teams are doing all they can to prevent this pandemic from affecting our National Pastime, and there is hope that a season can be had. And yet, case are rising at record rates in both Kansas and Missouri. Those numbers don’t make me comfortable that Kansas City will be out of the woods with COVID 19, which unfortunately makes the completion of the 2020 MLB season all that more unlikely. If we’re struggling with it here in Kansas City, it will only be worse in other areas of the country.
It’s hard to be optimistic about what this baseball could turn into once games resumes in late July. Sure, the Royals have all the pieces in place to make a surprise playoff appearance: they return three of their best hitters, their pitching phenoms are likely to make their debut (Brady Singer, especially), and they have a new manager who has brought a jolt of life to this stagnant organization. If one had the opportunity to bet on the over/under when it comes to Royals wins, I would be the over. Yes, I am a diehard, homer Royals fan, but I truly believe this is a team that could surprise the AL Central in 2020.
Of course, that’s if we finish a season. Or if we get to play at all. It’s hard to tell or be optimistic at this point. This country continues to make questionable decision after questionable decision when it comes to COVID protection and it seems like we have another 2-3 months of distancing and isolating in order to stop the spread…again. And unfortunately, baseball may be the casualty of that, especially considering many of the issues regarding player safety. Yes, I want baseball back as well, but it’s hard to justify it if players are getting infected, and coaches are stepping down in order to protect themselves, much like Rusty Kuntz, who was hoping to return to the field this year:
And thus, Royals fans need to cool their jets and optimism a little bit for the upcoming year in a variety of ways. COVID has already hurt the club now, and it will likely happen again, especially when Royals fans least expect it. Jorge Soler could test positive while in the middle of one of his hot home run streaks. Hunter Dozier could decided to sit this one out due to his wife and young children. Another older coach could step down due to health worries. A lot could go wrong in 2020 that could derail the Royals’ and other MLB Teams’ seasons.
Am I saying that Royals fans should throw in the towel? Of course not. I hope and pray that the Royals not only play, but somehow sneak into the postseason and make KC a joyous baseball city again like it was from 2014-2017.
But as Royals fans, we have to be smart and realistic. And the early returns on COVID affecting the Royals are not good…
And as we know, a good or bad start can dictate how a season may go, especially for the Royals franchise.
Let’s just say the Royals aren’t replicating the 2003 start in 2020 so far…even if games haven’t been formally played just yet and we are in the middle of global pandemic.
We will see how the Royals will adjust and protect themselves over the course of the year, not just for themselves, but the loyal Royals fans of Kansas City.
The Royals can’t afford another star to test positive anytime soon if they want to make this year memorable…or at least memorable record-wise.