I was thinking about Joakim Soria’s career the other day, and I started pondering the number of Royals who have left Kansas City and then come back. And I realized that what Soria is trying to do is unprecedented in team history. No player has ever really excelled as a Royal, then left and come back and done well. They’ve done well and left, or done poorly and left, then come back and played well, or not really amounted to much in either stint.
The list of players with multiple stretches in a Royals uniform has 26 names on it, including Soria (see the full list below). They range from the beloved (Kevin Appier, Mike Macfarlane, David Cone) to the mostly-forgotten (Jerry Cram) to the reviled (Yuniesky Betancourt).Two men have actually played in KC three different times: Tim Spehr and Jamie Quirk. And you could make a full 25-man roster out of them, if you don’t mind having three catchers (Quirk could play third base, first base, and even outfield in a pinch, so he’d be a useful bench piece).
Really. You’d have two very good starters atop the rotation with Appier and Cone. Roger Nelson would be a fine third starter. The back of the bullpen, with Soria, Gene Garber, and Gregg Olson, would be pretty good. The corner outfield spots are in good shape with Jeff Conine and Raul Ibanez. Joe Randa holds down the hot corner. Put Macfarlane behind the plate. The weak spots are at second base (Juan Samuel was a good hitter but not a good fielder, although he was hardly a Royal long enough to make his mark in either way), shortstop (Betancourt), first base (there aren’t any guys on this roster who played there most of the time), and center field (your choices include Michael Tucker, Tom Poquette, and Richie Scheinblum). I’m not sure who would manage this team, unless you want to count Bob Schaefer’s two times as an interim manager.
The players who, like Soria, starred for the Royals in their first go-round are few. Appier is certainly one; after 10 ½ fine seasons, he was dealt at the trade deadline in 1999. But by the time he returned to Kansas City in 2003, he was about done. His second stint in KC consisted of six appearances and 23 innings.
As an aside, it’s a funny thing about that 2003 team: eight of the 26 players in question played for that team: Appier, Ibanez, Jose Lima, Mendy Lopez, Brent Mayne, Randa, Tucker, and Jamey Wright. Somewhat of a coincidence, I’m sure, but it also speaks to the lengths the Royals went to that year to keep hope alive. A lot of bubble gum and duct tape was spent trying to hold that roster together.
Anyway, the only other players on the list besides Appier to have a really nice first term as a Royal are Macfarlane and Ibanez. Appier and Macfarlane are really the only two players to have extended success in their first spell as Royals, and then come back to Kansas City later on (Ibanez had three nice years his first time as a Royal, but Appier and Macfarlane both did it for several years). Macfarlane was a Royal for eight years before a one-year deal with Boston; then he came back to KC for two seasons before he was traded shortly after the start of the 1998 season. His first year back was good, but his second was subpar.
Still, it’s hard to draw any conclusions from looking at this list. Nobody on the list was a reliever who was as good for as long as Soria was. All three of the Appier/Ibanez/Macfarlane trio were older than Soria (32) when they came back to the Royals; Appier and Ibanez were both very close to the end of their careers. Soria is really the only one who was brought back as a big-money free agent, with expectations and a key role on the team. That’s why I say what he’s trying to do is unprecedented in Royals history. Whether he can pull it off is a different topic, but the Royals must hope so.
Players who have played for the Royals in two (or more) different stints:
Kevin Appier (1990-1998, 2003-2004)
Juan Berenguer (1981, 1992)
Yuniesky Betancourt (2009-2010, 2012)
David Cone (1986, 1993-1994)
Jeff Conine (1992, 1998)
Jerry Cram (1969, 1976)
Jose de Jesus (1988-1989, 1994)
Sal Fasano (1996-1999, 2001)
Gene Garber (1973-1974, 1987-1988)
Fran Healy (1969, 1973-1976)
Raul Ibanez (2001-2003, 2014)
Jose Lima (2003, 2005)
Mendy Lopez (1998-1999, 2003-2004)
Mike Macfarlane (1987-1994, 1996-1998)
Brent Mayne (1990-1995, 2001-2003)
Roger Nelson (1969-1972, 1976)
Gregg Olson (1995, 1997)
Tom Poquette (1973-1979, 1982)
Jamie Quirk (1975-1976, 1978-1982, 1985-1988)
Joe Randa (1995-1996, 1999-2004)
Juan Samuel (1992, 1995)
Richie Scheinblum (1972, 1974)
Joakim Soria (2007-2011, 2016)
Tim Spehr (1991, 1997, 1998-1999)
Michael Tucker (1995-1996, 2002-2003)
Jamey Wright (2003, 2009)
Photo credit: Kelley L. Cox, USA Today Sports