Dayton Moore named President of Baseball Operations; JJ Picollo promoted to Royals General Manager

Meet the new boss. Same as the old boss. With a twist. And is a new stadium on the horizon?

It was a seismic Tuesday in the Royals front office. The club announced that Dayton Moore would be promoted to the position of President, Baseball Operations. JJ Picollo will become the seventh General Manager in organization history.

This move is not a surprise. Moore is in his 15th season as general manager of the Royals. That’s an eon in the topsy-turvy world of sports management where the adage goes one gets hired to get fired. That stability is something that Moore cherishes. It’s is a trademark of his leadership style and part of what he feels fuels the culture he’s created as the general manager.

It’s difficult to separate Moore from Picollo and vice versa. Picollo is part of Moore’s fabled Braves Mafia and has long been one of his most trusted lieutenants. He joined Atlanta in 1999 and eventually moved into the role of Director of Minor League Operations in 2005, working closely with Moore who was Director of Player Personnel. Picollo joined the Royals in August of 2006, a couple of months after Moore officially assumed the reigns as the General Manager. He started in the organization as the Director of Player Development and was promoted to the role of Assistant General Manager-Scouting and Player Development a couple of years later. He ascended to Assistant General Manager-Player Personnel prior to the 2015 season. These two have worked together for over 20 years. Hell, their ties go all the way back to George Mason University where Moore was a coach when Picollo was a player.

As owner John Sherman mentioned during the press conference, Picollo carries a well-rounded front office resume. A promotion to this role is something that makes a lot of sense, given his experience. Otherwise, if an opportunity wasn’t forthcoming, he should—and would—continue to look for other GM opportunities around the game. There are only 30 of those spots, though. But eventually, someone would have hired Picollo.

Picollo has been a hot candidate on the GM job market for a few years now, garnering interviews with a range of clubs. A native of Cherry Hill, NJ, a suburb of Philadelphia, Picollo has twice been linked to openings with the Phillies. He interviewed with them during the Royals’ championship run in 2015 and at one point was considered “a heavy favorite.” He ultimately did not make the cut because “his background (was) in player development and scouting and that didn’t fit what the Phillies were seeking.” They were trying to become more analytical as a front office. It was reported he was under consideration when the position became open following the 2020 season.

Picollo reportedly interviewed with the division-rival Twins in September of 2016. A month later, he was linked with an opening for the Diamondbacks GM job. He also had an interview last winter with the Angels.

If you’re wondering what exactly has changed in the front office power structure, it’s not going to be anything immediately noticeable. That’s the point when you promote from within. It underscores the stability that Moore seeks and that Sherman is clearly comfortable with. The changes will be more on a personal level. Picollo has spent a lot of time visiting the minor league teams in the systems and watching them play. He won’t do that as much now as his focus will shift primarily to the major league club.

Moore’s promotion to President will allow him to focus on other areas of the club where he previously wasn’t able to spend much time. He will hit the road a little more to visit the minor league teams. He will travel to the Dominican. He will scout. He will get back to his roots, so to speak. He will also continue to be involved in the community and the Royals’ charitable arm, only now he can give a little more time than when he was occupied with the day-to-day operations of the club. Moore talks frequently about the team and his staff as “servants” to the community, so I would imagine he will be more involved with projects such as the Urban Youth Academy.

He will also still be involved in the baseball operations side. He’s President of Baseball Operations now, so to expect otherwise would be shortsighted. Here’s Moore on how the new dynamic will operate:

“Ultimately, I’ve got to make the final decision. That being said, I think you know how I operate. I’m not a micro-manager. We allow people to do their jobs. I’m going to trust JJ to make those decisions. We’ll all work together. It is very collaborative, as it always has been. And I think the uniqueness of this relationship is we’ve all worked together for so long.”

So…are there going to be actual changes? My read on that is that the club will still probably operate as usual, but Picollo will be the frontman for things such as trades, free agent signing and the like. He will also have the normal GM involvement in the day-to-day operations of the team during the season. The things that Moore touched on that are “reactionary” such as roster moves, waiver claims and the general issues that crop up around the major league club.

The general manager position has evolved to where it has to be collaborative to be successful. There’s simply too much information for one person to effectively process. Things won’t change in the Royals’ front office in that the collaboration means they will continue to operate as business as usual. Again, stability.

Moore expanded on the process involved in the decision-making:

“Every once in a while, someone has to press that leadership button and say ‘The tie is now broken.’ I’ll be the one to ultimately have to do that.”

None of this should come as a surprise. It’s a title bump so the business cards will have to be changed. There’s probably a nice pay raise involved. That’s a nice perk that comes with a new title. Picollo gets a little more juice and a better seat at the boardroom table. Moore continues to be where the buck stops.

If not much is changing, is it a good move for the Royals? I think this is. Picollo has been the architect of the Royals player development, which you may have noticed, is currently paying some serious dividends. The pitching has arrived in the big leagues and while there have been plenty of bumps on that road, it’s crazy that they have five young arms that are healthy and angling for a spot in next year’s rotation. Meanwhile, the hitting across the minor leagues has been just stupid hot across all levels this summer.

Picollo would be in demand again this offseason, so by making this move at this moment, the Royals are effectively taking him off the prospective GM market.

Moore gets the opportunity to expand his horizons beyond the big league club. He mentioned several times on Tuesday how he values relationships. By not having to worry about the minutiae of running the club on a daily basis, Moore will be able to hit the road and build those relationships.

It took some time for the Royals to get to this point with player development. It’s now the right moment to get ready for the next steps.

When John Sherman completed the purchase of the Royals, he didn’t immediately think about implementing this type of power alignment. Although as a former minority owner of the Cleveland ballclub, he was used to the idea of having a president of baseball operations working with a general manager. That’s the structure in place there, with Chris Antonetti as President of Baseball Operations and Mike Chernoff as the GM. Still, he said it took him a bit to come around to the idea. It was something he said Moore approached him about separately.

From Sherman about the Royals’ new front office:

“If you look at the industry, this structure is best practice in our industry now. I would say in any business, as it grows and becomes more complicated, complex. I think this will evolve. I expect to get more executive, high-level thinking out of Dayton when we think about the team. This is kind of a normal evolution as businesses grow and become more complex…I was looking at the standings today and thinking most of the teams in first place have this structure. I don’t know if there’s a correlation, but we’ll rely on the data.”

There’s something kind of comforting when the owner of the team talks about “data.” Even when it’s something you probably can’t quantify.

I think Sherman is spot on and I touched on it earlier. The game has become more and more complex. There is so much information, so much science involved. It’s not just about optimizing a batting order or finding a projection system that can uncover an undervalued player. It runs from things like nutrition to physiotherapy to general psychology. Everything a team does is about maximizing performance and results. Gone are the days where a couple of GMs go out for drinks and trade a couple of underperforming corner infielders. There’s just too much to analyze and the stakes are too high.

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My first question when I heard the news was, “Why now?” Why did the Royals feel the need to promote effective immediately?

This is something that’s usually taken care of in the season postmortem press conference that will be held in a little over three weeks. At least that’s when things like coaching staff changes and the like are announced. It just seems odd, with three weeks left in the season, to kind of restructure the front office.

But to Moore, the timing makes sense:

“As I began to dive deeper into this structure and talk to my colleagues around Major League Baseball and how it worked for them, how they were able to operate, balance out things better, it just seemed like the right time to do it.

I think I probably had to come to grips with some things and just look what’s best for the organization.”

Moore is such an interesting person to listen to. In my experiences with him, he just doesn’t seem to have that filter other executives possess. In the above quote, it’s the right time to make the move, but he apparently didn’t want to make it initially. He expanded a bit moments later:

“I just came to the realization that the best thing for the Kansas City Royals, for all involved, is this kind of structure. (There are) aspects of this job today that JJ is more qualified to do than me. It’s as simple as that.”

On one hand, this is just good leadership. Moore recognizes that Picollo possesses the knowledge and experience that will be helpful to the organization going forward. This is because Picollo has been instrumental in what Sherman called the “modernizing” of baseball operations for the Royals. Things Moore didn’t have the time to get as intimately involved with since he was busy with the day-to-day operations of the club. As the game has evolved and those things have taken on more importance, Picollo is uniquely positioned to become the next GM. The guy who was passed over by the Phillies because his foundation was too firmly on the scouting side has, through experiences in the Royals organization, become something of a baseball renaissance man. Once he was old school, but he’s new school now.

Speaking of odd timing, the press conference concluded with John Sherman talking about the Royals exploring possibilities for a new stadium once their lease for Kauffman expires at the end of this decade.

A new stadium! Talk about burying the lede.

While the timing was a bit strange (this definitely steals a little of the thunder from the announcement of the promotions), make no mistake…this is part of John Sherman’s master plan. The man did not put together a group to purchase this franchise and not end up with a new stadium.

Two thoughts on what’s transpired… First, credit to him for offering a bit of transparency of the process. By discussing the possibility of a new stadium now, years before any ground would need to be broken in time for the 2030 season, Sherman is getting ahead of any kind of leaks or speculation. That’s smart on his part.

Second, and not unrelated, Sherman has basically hung an “Open For Business” sign outside his front door. If metro cities or counties hadn’t been thinking about the possibility of bringing the Royals to their community, Tuesday’s announcement was an invitation to get their act together and get thinking. Wyandotte County, Overland Park or just about any other city with space and accessibility should be exploring how they could make a new stadium happen. Yeah, yeah, yeah the buzz is all about downtown but there are plenty of locales in the area where you could drop a stadium. And by opening the doors to anyone (while keeping open the option of remaining at The K), Sherman has guaranteed a competition for his team that will lead him to getting a favorable deal.

While it’s about 10 years away, let the new stadium talk commence.

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