The search is on
J.J. Picollo meets with the media to outline what he's looking for in a new manager and pitching coach and how that impacts the Royals getting back to relevance.
It’s going to take time.
That was the message Royals Executive Vice President/General Manager J.J. Picollo emphasized when meeting with the press on Thursday. While Picollo rapidly evaluated the performance of Mike Matheny and Cal Eldred and decided the organization needed to move on, Picollo was, a day later, stressing patience. They will be thorough in their search for a new manager. They will be methodical in assembling a major league coaching staff. And finally, it’s going to take some time before this Royals team will be competitive in the AL Central.
You’re probably fine with the Royals doing their due diligence in hiring a new manager and pitching coach. The stakes are high and Picollo needs to get this right.
But time to compete in the Central? Yeah, you didn’t want to hear that.
Picollo opened his press conference by talking about the process where he reached the conclusion that Matheny and Eldred had to go.
We made the announcement that we were moving on from Mike Matheny and Cal Eldred. There are decisions we never take lightly. There’s a lot that goes into that. There’s a lot of thought, there’s a lot of questions that are being asked, there’s evaluations that need to take place on where we are as a team and also where we are with individual players and their progress in their major league career. Based on those evaluations, we thought the time was right to make that change, as difficult as it was.
That’s a nice, concise way to put it. The team didn’t improve and important players (i.e. almost all the pitchers) saw their progress stall. Picollo said the decision was “difficult” but I think he’s just being tactful. I imagine that as they were evaluating the progress of the team and the players, they realized fairly quickly that a change was necessary. Hell, they just needed to look at Baseball Reference or Fangraphs. It probably wasn’t all that difficult.
Picollo expanded upon those evaluations.
We didn’t meet…I’m going to try to avoid the word "expectations,” as much as I can, but we did have some expectations. So when you look at our record at the end of the season, you know, something went wrong. We should’ve won more games than we did. There are a lot of factors that go into that. It’s not just Mike (Matheny) himself, there’s myself, our front office, you know we’re all accountable for that. But, we expected to be a little bit further along than we were and we can’t avoid that that’s the case.
Not sure why Picollo is so averse to expectations, other than when you set a goal in public and fail to reach it, there’s going to be hell to pay. So maybe I do understand why. It’s something that led to his predecessor, Dayton Moore, getting sideways with the fanbase. Talk about contention like Moore often did and then lose 90 games…like Moore often did and you’ll see how fast patience will run dry. The pennants and World Championship can only buy so much time.
One thing that mildly surprised me in the Royals’ announcement on Wednesday was that only Matheny and Eldred were fired. I expected a little more thorough house cleaning to be done. It turns out a couple of guys on the current staff are in the mix for the managerial vacancy.
Pedro Grifol is a candidate for this job. Vance Wilson is a candidate for this job. So we’ll see where that goes. And the way this is going to play out, the priority is to hire a manager first, the manager will have some influence and say in who the pitching coach is and as you get those pieces in place it will determine the remainder of our staff.
Grifol has been a candidate in the past and was a holdover from Yost’s dugout staff when Matheny came on board. Both Grifol and Wilson were candidates for the post when Yost retired after the 2019 season. Grifol interviewed with the Tigers in the 2020 offseason and Wilson was reportedly under consideration for that job as well. Grifol had a couple of rounds of interviews with the Giants in the past for their managerial position.
So it’s not like those two guys are a couple of holdovers who don’t deserve a shot. They’ve had managerial helium in the past.
As I’ve been drawing up a shortlist of possible hires for the position, I haven’t given Grifol or Wilson much consideration simply because I believe Picollo (and Sherman) want to go outside the organization to get some fresh thinking in that dugout. Yet it makes sense for Picollo to conduct interviews with both, given that the industry views them as having managerial timbre. It would be rather foolish to bypass a couple of decent candidates who are in-house just because they’re in-house. If Picollo made one thing clear, it’s that he’s going to do extreme due diligence in this process.
As for the second part of his quote, again it makes sense for any new manager to bring in his own staff. That means that while Grifol and Wilson are candidates for the job, they are by no means guaranteed a spot on the coaching staff if they don’t get the offer to manage.
The new guy needs to be able to assemble his own staff, namely his bench coach and pitching coach.
Given the successes of the Royals’ minor league hitting program, it wasn’t a surprise to learn that Alec Zumwalt, Keoni DeRenne and Mike Tosar will return to coach the hitters. Damon Hollins will also return as the first base coach.
There are people in every organization in baseball that are very talented. We’re going to cast a wide net and narrow it down and as we build out what we think are the most important ingredients to be the manager for the Kansas City Royals, I couldn’t tell you which organization that’s going to come from. That’s kind of why that this is in some ways exciting right now.
This is the process of hiring the new manager that will take some time. Picollo mentioned they had a “lengthy list” of potential candidates. In some ways, I think this is a fine idea. An interview is a fact-finding mission on both sides. It can be an opportunity for an organization to learn a bit more that goes on outside the walls of One Royal Way. If they truly do a deep dive into the managerial pool, they could learn some things just from the interview process.
Of course, there’s the pitching coach opening to discuss. As mentioned earlier, they will wait to fill that role until they find their manager. Meanwhile, Picollo gave a glimpse of how he would like their pitching side to be structured.
We have a pitching coach, we have a bullpen coach…We do have support staff working behind the scenes (on the pitching). Doing advanced reports, in game action reports that were very impactful…It was a four man effort. I think when we do hire our pitching coach and we get the thoughts of our manager, we’ll have a better idea of what the structure of the pitching side will look like, but I would suspect it would look very similar to our hitting.
Again, it makes sense. The hitting program has been successful for the most part. Numbers are up across the minor leagues and the kids more than held their own once they reached the majors. Is there room for improvement from the position players? Oh, most definitely. They’re on the right path, though. Now the Royals have to get the pitchers on the same path.
Picollo expanded a bit on the role of the major league pitching coach and how he will work with a minor league coordinator.
One thing that I will share, I don't think it’s healthy to have somebody in the major leagues that’s trying to oversee all the minor leagues. The day-to-day operations here and preparation that goes into trying to win a ballgame, it’s time-consuming. We don’t envision having somebody as a pitching coach that’s going to oversee the minor leagues. Paul Gibson is our senior director of pitching, he will continue in that role. We’re going to look to build out around him. Paul will be part of the process to help hire a pitching coach here. Hopefully, that relationship is a good one. It will be. It needs to be. Paul is really important to what we’re doing and has great feel for the minor leagues and the things he’s been able to do since 2018 I think are not recognized enough.
There may be some of you who want to put everyone responsible for pitching in this organization on a rocket and launch it straight into the sun. But think for a moment about the young pitchers in this organization and when most of them stalled in their development. For the most part, they rocketed through the minors, injury free and with a good deal of success. It was once they reached the majors that they stalled out and, in most cases, took a large step back.
Gibson is the guy responsible for that minor league success. Picollo seemed to be saying that there wasn’t communication between Gibson and Eldred. At least there wasn’t a plan in place once the pitchers graduated to the majors. The job now is to make sure there’s a working relationship between the two.
One of my favorite parts of these end-of-the-season press conferences is the opportunity to learn about off-season plans. In other words, how much money is the team going to spend? Picollo was a bit cagy in his response to playing in the free agent market.
John and I have had this discussion and John is willing to do what we need to do at the appropriate time. Coming off a season like we’ve just come off it may not be the right time to do that. But there’s a willingness, there’s an openness. I think what we need to focus on is infrastructure and how we build out the infrastructure and when the time is right we’ll do what we have to do. There are a lot of teams that have high payrolls that aren’t playing tomorrow, so I don’t think that’s the only way to win ballgames. I think making good decisions along the way is as impactful as having a high payroll.
This quote takes me back because it was something Moore would emphasize about Glass. It turned out, Moore was right. Once the opportunity was there, Glass did open up the checkbook. At one point, the Royals’ payroll was $143 million, the 15th-highest in the majors. That was in 2017. At the start of 2022, it was down to $95 million. That was the 23rd-highest payroll last year.
I’m going to respectfully disagree with Picollo on not needing a high payroll. First of all, the Royals can, as has been proved in the past, nudge that payroll higher by quite a bit. And as far as good decisions, making good payroll decisions can provide a tremendous impact. Step one: Spend money. Step two: Spend money smartly.
As for spending smartly, the Royals haven’t exactly done that in the past.
If the Royals want to get better, in addition to hiring quality coaches and implementing a decent pitching program, they should be open to spending some money to fortify the rotation. It’s not for the faint of heart, but let’s be real. A little competition for the rotation can be healthy. You would think that could be a motivator for some of these guys to push toward their ceiling that Picollo talked about.
When we went for it a little bit, when we signed Carlos (Santana), and Mike Minor and (Andrew) Benintendi, we thought we had a group that can compete in the Central. Now I think it’s going to take some time to grow into a team that’s going to compete at the top of the Central year in and year out.
The AL Central is the weakest of the major’s six divisions. The Royals have, by aggressive promotion of their pitching prospects the last couple of years and now their position players in 2022, effectively punched the contention clock. They can’t afford to take a wait-and-see approach. They have to get better and they have to get better fast. They have to figure out who they can trade to get better. They have to figure out the free agents that can fill those holes they can’t get to internally.
Picollo is trying to temper expectations and buy himself time as he takes full control of the organization. Again, understandable. However, the Royals previously started the clock anew in 2018. Picollo doesn’t get to hit the reset button just because he’s new to the job. The Process 2.0 is underway whether he likes it or not. His job now is to get to contention as fast as possible. Patience is in short supply.
Thanks for reading today. Have a great weekend of Wild Card baseball.
It sort of sounds like Cal Eldred was over seeing Paul Gibson's work? Which is just bizarre that he was empowered to do that, if that was indeed the case.
Good point about the clock ticking because so many prospects were graduated. Still, pitching can come quickly, more quickly than hitting, I think.
Re: Gibson, what are we to make then of the minor leaguers saying they had to pull teeth to get access to the tools they needed in the pitching exposé from the Athletic?