Andrew Benintendi, Whit Merrifield among 10 unvaccinated Kansas City Royals players out for Toronto Blue Jays series

Ten Kansas City Royals players, including four of their top hitters and two of their best starting pitchers this season, will not travel to Toronto this week for the four-game series with the Blue Jays because they have not received the COVID-19 vaccination.

The vaccine requirement for border crossing into Canada will affect outfielder Andrew Benintendi, super-utilityman Whit Merrifield, catcher MJ Melendez, first baseman/outfielder Hunter Dozier, right-hander Brad Keller, right-hander Brady Singer, center fielder Michael A. Taylor, outfielder Kyle Isbel, reliever Dylan Coleman and catcher Cam Gallagher.

"At the end of the day, it's their choice," Royals president of baseball operations Dayton Moore told reporters Wednesday. "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."

Players who are unvaccinated and don't make the trip to Toronto are placed on the restricted list and forfeit service time and salary for the four games missed.

"It's an individual choice," manager Mike Matheny said. "The organization's done a real good job bringing in professionals and experts to talk guys through tough conversations and then put it in their hands to make the decisions they believe is best for them and their families."

Prior to Kansas City, the most players a team had missed in Toronto was four, and 25 total players had hit the restricted list due to being unvaccinated.

"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 I would think about getting it at this point, is to go to Canada. That might change down the road. If 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 with my decision, my teammates support me, support the rest of the guys in here who have made that decision, and that's that."

Benintendi is the only 2022 All-Star in the group. The Royals, with a 35-53 record after beating Detroit on Wednesday afternoon, have explored trading the 28-year-old, who is batting .317 and due to hit free agency this winter.

"For me, it was a personal decision," Benintendi said. "And I'm going to leave it at that."

Melendez, a rookie, batted leadoff the past two days as Merrifield, whose 553-game Iron Man streak came to an end because of a toe injury, sat out. Dozier has regularly served as the Royals' cleanup hitter. The only vaccinated outfielder on the Royals' active roster is Edward Olivares.

Kansas City will summon reinforcements from its Triple-A and Double-A affiliates to fill out the big league roster. The Royals' series at Toronto begins Thursday.

"Now what it presents is an opportunity for some young guys to step in who wouldn't normally be here," Matheny said. "It will affect what we're doing rotation-wise and that will be another question that we'll have to answer later. I'm excited about some guys coming in and getting a chance."

Blue Jays interim manager John Schneider said his team won't take Kansas City lightly.

"A little bit surprising, but the rules are the rules. We live by them and the rest of the league lives by them," Schneider said in Toronto. "Definitely not a series you're going to take lightly going into the break. You kind of see who they have, you game plan accordingly, and hopefully build off this two-game series [sweep] against the Phillies."

Information from The Associated Press was used in this report.