After not having Fanfest for the past couple of years due to the COVID Pandemic (2021) and MLB Lockout (2022), the Royals returned with their winter fan event, albeit in a much different, and abbreviated format: the Royals Rally at Kauffman Stadium on February 3rd.
Instead of the multi-day convention-style format that fans were accustomed to with Royals Fanfest at Bartle Hall in Downtown Kansas City, the Royals opted this year for a one-day showcase at Kauffman Stadium, with the day split into three two-hour sessions. The majority of the day took place in the Diamond Club of the K, though fans with VIP tickets were able to spend some time in the Royals clubhouse as well.
The condensed format definitely had its share of detractors, especially from those Royals fans who were used to the more “expansive” format of previous Fanfest events.
Nonetheless, as a Royals fan who is always starved for more Royals events and content, it was nice to simply have something Royals-centric again in the winter months in Kansas City.
Let’s take a look at five things that Royals fans could take away from this past weekend’s event at the K (especially in preparation for the 2023 season and beyond).
Having It at the K Was Not a Bad Thing
While I enjoyed Fanfest being at the Convention Center downtown, I actually think that the winter event being at the K may actually be an upgrade, despite the cold weather.
Even though Bartle Hall works better in terms of shielding Royals fans from the cold winter weather, being at the K with less than a month to the start of Spring Training really did get me, and many other Royals fans in attendance, pumped for the upcoming season. It was nice to walk through the concourse area of Kauffman and get excited about picturing Opening Day against the Minnesota Twins on March 30th.
The K has more sentimental value than Bartle Hall for this event, and I hope the Royals continue to explore this event being at Kauffman in the future, especially with the lifespan for the K questionable at this point.
That being said, there were some improvements that could be made.
First off, the space was pretty limited at Royals Rally, with the Diamond Club and the concourse area by the Team Stores being the only places open. It would have been nice if the main concourse would’ve been more open, even if most of the attractions were closed. I think having the Royals Hall of Fame open, and maybe an attraction or two in the Outfield Experience could have not just replicated the experience at FanFest, but perhaps surpassed it, mostly due to the fact that it is happening at Kauffman Stadium rather than in a convention center.
Second, it would have been nice if there were more complimentary items, especially with the event costing $20 bucks just to get in ($50 for a VIP ticket).
I get that the Royals would like to make some money off of concessions. That being said, the Royals 5K had free hot dogs and snacks. Considering the more limited numbers and format of the three sessions, couldn’t the Royals have done the same thing? They could’ve easily made their money on other items like alcohol and team store sales.
Maybe it’s nitpicky, but it would’ve been nice for Royals fans to get more freebies (and more time to enjoy such freebies in the stadium), especially for those who aren’t driven by autographs (such as myself).
Sherman Remains Committed to Kansas City
As I said on Twitter, there’s no question that John Sherman has been getting it from Royals fans in regard to the new downtown stadium issue, even though it still appears to be a process that has a “long way to go.”
This may be something for a separate post, but I see both sides of the stadium argument.
On one end, Kauffman Stadium itself is great and provides one of the best ballpark experiences in Major League Baseball. There isn’t a bad view in the place (can’t say the same of parks like Fenway Park), there is plenty to do in the park for fans of all ages, and it is also a reasonable value, even if the team isn’t as good as the ones who played there from 2013 to 2017.
Granted, concrete ballparks like Kauffman do not age well (look at the Oakland Coliseum for example) and I think that rough aging will hit the K sooner than Royals fans would like to admit. Nonetheless, it still feels like Kauffman could go another decade or two and still compete with other ballpark experiences across the league.
However, I understand what Sherman is saying when he wants to attract more “young working professional” folks to the ballpark (they’re the ones consuming beers and such after all). That’s harder to do at the Truman Sports Complex, which is located on the edge of eastern Kansas City and western Independence.
Are the Royals a great experience on a weekend when one has a lot of time to spend tailgating? Absolutely. But what about those weeknight games? What if fans want to find a place to sober up before driving home? What if fans want a reasonable alternative to driving into the stadium or taking an expensive Uber ride share?
That experience isn’t happening now, and won’t happen where Kauffman Stadium currently is at.
So I get the desire to move downtown from Sherman’s perspective, though it will take some more public investment. Kansas City doesn’t have the “ballpark villages” that places like Cincinnati, Cleveland, and St. Louis have quite just yet (though the Power and Light district is close to that).
Despite the downtown ballpark issue, it is still clear Sherman is committed to the Royals and making sure that the organization benefits all of Kansas City.
During his roundtable with Ryan Lefebvre and JJ Picollo, Sherman constantly emphasized how passionate he is to help build a long-term winner in Kansas City, and how he knows how much the Royals organization means to the people of Kansas City. It doesn’t seem like Sherman is holding the city hostage for this stadium like some MLB owners have done with their respective teams.
While Sherman ultimately wants the Royals to move downtown, it doesn’t appear like he’s willing to ransom the club in order to get it done. He’s well aware of how rough moves like the Scouts (NHL), Kings (NBA), and even A’s (MLB) were on the psyches of the Kansas City community. And thus, he seems like he doesn’t want Kansas City sports fans to even think that’s a possibility, which is refreshing, especially with everything going on in Oakland and Tampa Bay right now.
Sherman may not be a perfect owner, and I question the timing of pushing this “downtown stadium” narrative, especially in the wake of the pandemic and with a team that has not had a winning season since 2015.
But I do not question Sherman’s commitment to Kansas City and the Royals organization as a whole, even if it may not be in the “money flush” way of owners like Steve Cohen of the Mets.
Picollo Seems Clear in His Vision for the Club in 2023 and Beyond
If there is one thing we can say about GM JJ Picollo in his first full offseason without Dayton Moore it is this: he is at least consistent in his vision for the Royals in this upcoming season and the near future.
In the first roundtable session, Picollo seemed to emphasize not only development but roster depth. He was specific in what areas the Royals looked to improve upon this offseason (i.e. bullpen, starting pitching, and position depth off the bench). Also, he was candid in the many challenges that the Royals faced this winter as well.
He owned up to the fact that the Royals were exploring some extensions to some of their key young players, though he did admit that they were not quite there just yet (he made it seem like next year was a more realistic possibility). While he didn’t mention it in the second session I attended, he did seem to throw some possible names out there in the first session from 10 a.m. to Noon.
Even though Picollo has been in the Royals organization for his entire professional career, it is obvious that he’s following the mold of Cleveland and Tampa when it comes to building the Royals into a consistent winner, despite their small-market status. In the session, he championed pitching depth at all levels of the Royals system and seemed to be more genuine in terms of referencing analytics and the discussions he and manager Matt Quatraro were having in terms of incorporating those metrics and tools at the MLB level to find success.
That said, Picollo (and Sherman) were adamant that while they were looking to Cleveland Tampa for inspiration, they ultimately wanted to build their own “model” of small market success that would differentiate them from other MLB clubs.
I am not sure what that will exactly look like both in 2023 and in the future, but it was a lot more refreshing than the typical “we’re going to compete every day” coach-speak Royals fans have been quite used to from Moore at previous Fanfest events.
The Young Royals Stole the Show
In the first session, the players’ roundtable consisted of mostly Royals veterans, with Brad Keller, Scott Barlow, Nicky Lopez, Josh Staumont, and Zack Greinke joining Lefebvre on the main stage in the Diamond Club.
During the second session, Lopez returned, but he was joined by Bobby Witt, Jr., Michael Massey, and Vinnie Pasquantino. Also this time around, new Royals radio play-by-play announcer Jake Eisenberg led the conversation, and safe to say, it was a much more “informal” affair. The energy level was high, primarily led by Vinnie and Massey, who pretty much treated the half-hour roundtable as their own talk show.
Whether it was personal stories (Vinnie talked about a time he accidentally blocked Massey’s phone number), what stood out the most from the 2022 season (Witt re-emphasized how much they enjoyed the Toronto series, which sounds like was the turning point for this young group), or just interacting with the crowd (Vinnie kept giving a Royals fan in an Eagles jersey a hard time), it was easy for Royals fans to really engage and get engrossed by this young group during the roundtable session.
Furthermore, kudos to Eisenberg, who allowed the young group of players to riff on things, which made the session even more enjoyable. It is obvious that Eisenberg is going to provide a much fresher voice to what Royals fans have been used to on the radio with Steve Physioc and Denny Matthews. That’s not a slight to either guy (especially Matthews who is a legend), but it’s nice that they found someone who will provide something different on the Royals media team, which is much needed.
It is obvious that this young group of players likes playing with each other AND being around each other. This isn’t a “26 guys; 26 cabs” kind of club, which is not only good for the short-term but long-term as well, especially if Picollo can ink a few of these guys to long-term extensions in the next year.
Even Greinke has remarked that the energy from this club is a big reason why he returned for another season with the Royals.
The Royals benefitted from young players like Massey and Vinnie both on the field and in the clubhouse in 2022. And they only were up for half a season (if that).
I can’t imagine what this Royals team could do with that young bunch not only up for a full 162-game season but a full Spring Training as well.
Safe to say, Spring camp in Surprise will be exciting to watch from a Royals fan’s perspective.
Witt’s Starpower (And What Does That Mean For Salvy?)
If there was one thing that really stuck out beyond Vinnie and Massey being the “high-energy” guys of the bunch, it was this: Witt is the “star” of this Royals squad, even before the start of Spring Training.
Even in the roundtable, Massey and Vinnie were quick to point out to Eisenberg to ask Witt questions, since he was the “most important” player on the stage.
And that was with Nicky Lopez up there. Amazingly enough, Nicky didn’t seem to disagree with Massey and Vinnie’s sentiments.
Even beyond the roundtable, it was crazy to see how fans simply gravitated toward Witt and how he graciously met the and accepted the “star” treatment. Witt doesn’t have the big energy of Vinnie or Massey or the “quirkiness” of Greinke or Salvy, but it’s obvious that he’s comfortable with being the “star” of this team. He doesn’t brag about it, but he doesn’t shy away from it either, which is a great sign for him and this team going forward.
It truly feels like Witt loves being in Kansas City and loves being the “guy” for the Royals. And that has been obvious this offseason, whether it’s his image frequently being used in promos, or him being a frequent visitor to Arrowhead Stadium as a special guest for Chiefs games.
With Witt commanding so much star power though, it makes one wonder if Witt taking the spotlight is having an effect on Salvador Perez, who’s commanded that role since the 2018 season.
Back at Royals Fanfest in 2020, it was the Salvy show, as he not only dominated the players’ roundtable discussions, but he also had his US citizenship ceremony at the Royals winter event as well.
This time around though, Salvy was absent both in person and in the promotion of the Royals Rally, which makes one wonder if it was the Royals’ or Salvy’s choice for him not being in attendance or barely in any promotional materials for the event.
Beyond the Royals Rally though, it’s been a weird offseason for Salvy in general.
Not only did the Royals part ways with Moore, whom Salvy was close to, but also Pedro Grifol and Mike Tosar, who both are now with the White Sox organization (Grifol is currently the manager for Chicago). Salvy was pretty open about how he wished Grifol got his managing opportunity in Kansas City, and it makes Royals fans wonder if the hiring of Quatraro was something Salvy disagreed with this offseason (and thus contributing to the silence from his end).
That line of thought was also further amplified by Salvy unfollowing the Royals this offseason on Instagram (and him following Grifol as well):
Now, do I think Salvy is going to ask for a trade, ala Greinke-style back in 2010?
I doubt it. Salvy is still a professional, and he’ll get a chance to start at catcher most days, especially with it sounding like MJ Melendez may see more regular time in the outfield in 2023. The Royals don’t have many choices at catcher, and while Salvy’s best defensive days are behind him, it still appears that Salvy wants to catch as much as possible.
On the other hand, Salvy has two more years left on his deal after 2023 (he has a club option for the 2026 season), according to Roster Resource payroll data. While the AAV numbers in 2024 and 2025 are high ($20 and $22 million, respectively), if Salvy can continue to produce offensively like has had over the past few seasons, then it is likely that there will be more of a market for his services, especially if he is willing to spend more time at the DH position.
The Royals would be foolish not to pursue or listen to any trade offers, especially if there is a likelihood that Salvy may leave after 2025.
A few years ago, I figured Salvy would spend his entire career in Royals blue and white. With Witt becoming the new Royals “face of the franchise” though, I think the likelihood of Salvy leaving Kansas City after 2025 has increased quite a bit, and I doubt the Royals would want to give him another long-term deal to stay in KC, especially for a club that wants to build their clubs like the Guardians and Rays. Cleveland and Tampa do not overpay for past-their-prime veterans, regardless of their value to the fanbase.
I didn’t think Jose Abreu would leave the White Sox or Jacob deGrom would leave the Mets. But lo and behold, they’re playing for new organizations in 2023.
Salvy will be in KC for at least a couple of more years, so I do not think this is something that Royals fans need to freak out about now. Royals fans should expect more “Salvy Splashes” in 2023 and 2024.
But starting in 2025?
Those “Salvy Splashes” will become a lot hazier.
Photo Credit: Kevin O’Brien
5 thoughts on “Five Takeaways from the Royals Rally”
I hope Salvy retires a Royal (even if that may eventually not be a smart roster decision), so I have no desire to push him out or even to the background, but Witt’s embrace of the spotlight is nothing but encouraging. He’s the future, so it’s good that he doesn’t seem to be counting the days until he can skip town. Now, if they can just work out that new contract…
Also, full powder blues are back! Big news for me at Powder Blue Nostalgia!
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I hope so too, but I think that’s becoming harder and harder to do. Examples like Miguel Cabrera show that long term deals to get guys to “end” careers in one place can really be an albatross on teams, especially if they’re not flush with cash like the Yankees or Dodgers, etc. Even if Salvy does leave, I would be open to a Pujols or Greinke-esque situation where he comes back for a year or two to finish out his career, though not as depended on as heavily as before.
I agree about Witt. This weekend made me feel better that a LT extension is a possibility. I get that he has a lot to gain with FA, but his dad is not Boras, and Witt seems to be the kind of guy who may not want to be in that big market anyways. The only org that I could see compete is Texas (because of his hometown connections), and it may be hard for him to have a spot there anyways with Jung, Seager and Semien there for the long haul. But I honestly think other than Vinnie, Witt is the guy they will have the best shot at an extension with, simply because I think Royals will throw all they can to keep him. They won’t short-change him. (Less optimistic about MJ, a Boras-client).
And yes forgot to mention that! I cannot wait to see them in person in Opening Day. It was funny though that Vinnie mentioned that they had no idea they were coming and they actually found out via Twitter.
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