Mike Matheny, Royals Fire Director

The organizational overhaul of the Royals continues. Shortly after wrapping up a 69-93 season, Kansas City announced that manager Mike Matheny and pitching coach Cal Eldred would not return in 2023. The Royals had exercised a 2023 club option on Matheny’s services during spring training, but he will be relieved of his duties a season early.

The news comes weeks after the Royals made a change at the top of the front office. President of baseball operations Dayton Moore was removed from his post in late September, with general manager JJ Picollo assigned to lead baseball operations. Picollo’s first major decision is to change direction at the clubhouse, and the Royals will now focus on finding a new skipper.

Matheny’s dismissal closes the books on his three-year leadership tenure. Originally brought to the KC organization during the 2018-19 offseason as a special assistant, Matheny was almost immediately rumored as a likely successor to then-manager Ned Yost. When Yost retired at the end of the 2019 season, the Royals indeed tabulated Matheny to return to the top of the dugout steps. The former major league wide receiver had spent more than six years managing the Cardinals between 2012 and 2018, and he obviously impressed the Royals’ front office during his season as a special assistant.

It wasn’t a particularly large roster, with Matheny taking over as the team was firmly in the midst of rebuilding. Kansas City had lost more than 100 games in each of the previous two years, so it wasn’t particularly surprising that they stumbled to 26-34 in the abbreviated 2020 campaign. The following offseason, the Royals added carlos santana, André Benintendi and Mike Miner in order to be more competitive. They finished, to some extent, with a 74-88 record that came with their highest winning percentage (45.7%) since 2017.

Still, the upgrades weren’t enough to make the Royals full-fledged contenders. After a 15-7 showing in April, they finished 0.500 or lower each month after. Kansas City was surprisingly quiet last winter. The Royals reunited with Zack Greinke on a $13 million contract and shipped the underperforming miner for the reliever Amir Garrett. Otherwise, Kansas City was counting on internal improvements coupled with the fruits of a thriving agricultural system to get back above .500 for the first time since winning the World Series in 2015.

The Royals carried the best hope Bobby Witt Jr. on the opening day list. In a few months, MJ Melendez and Vinnie Pasquantino would join him. All three got off to good starts, with Witt and Pasquantino looking like above-average regulars from the get-go. The team’s overall performance, however, went in the wrong direction. They won nine fewer games than in 2021, finishing with the fifth-worst record in the majors. Benintendi and cornerstone of the long-running franchise Whit Merrifield were traded mid-season.

Among the main reasons for the lack of progress was a starting rotation that ranked 26th in the majors with a 4.72 ERA. Of the seven KC starters in the top 20 innings, five had an ERA of 4.93 or higher. It’s particularly discouraging given the sheer volume of talented young arms the Royals have seen reach the majors in recent seasons. Kansas City has invested a lot of tentative capital to bolster its pitching pipeline, including using four of the top 40 overall selections in 2018 on college arms. Brady Singer, Jackson Kovar, Daniel Lynch and Kris Bubic were all brought in that year, but only Singer made it through the development stages the club had considered.

After surprisingly starting the year in the bullpen, Singer was quickly sent to Triple-A to stretch as a starter. After returning to a rotational role in mid-May, the right-hander has become the Royals’ most productive arm. He made 24 starts and worked to a 3.11 ERA with an above-average strikeout rate of 24.2% and a quality ground ball mark of 48.5%. Singer again struggled to turn the lineup three times, but he outplayed his opponents his first two times with a command. While it may not have been a perfect campaign, Singer’s 2022 season has undoubtedly qualified as a success.

Unfortunately for the Royals, none of his peers have taken a similar step forward. None of Bubic, Lynch or Jon Heasley posted an ERA below 5.00, and all three had strikeout rates well below average. Carlos Hernandez was one of the worst pitchers in the league during a season-opening rotation and eventually ended up in the bullpen. Kowar has been hit hard during his limited stints in MLB the past two seasons and has had a 6.16 ERA through 20 Triple-A starts this year. Grounder Specialist Brad Keller has taken a massive step backwards in the past two years and could be untendered this offseason. It’s to the Royals’ credit that Keller, selected from the Diamondbacks organization in the 2017-18 Rule 5 Draft, ever emerged as a productive starter in the first place. Still, his regression coupled with the lack of progress of many of Kansas City’s most promising weapons will have to be an area of ​​focus for Picollo and his front office group.

The first move in this arena comes down to the coaching staff. In addition to Matheny, the Royals are leaving Eldred after five seasons as pitching coach. First hired to join Yost’s staff in 2018, the former MLB right-hander remained in the role once Matheny took over two years later. Kansas City will now be looking for a new voice to work with the big league arms, and Athletic’s Andy McCullough reports the organization is likely to follow up with changes to its pitching infrastructure in the player development department.

It will obviously be a big winter for the Royals, who now have the second-longest active playoff drought in the American League. The team’s collection of high-potential rookie players bolsters an increasingly promising roster. Kansas City may be looking for improvements in the corner outfield and at third base, but the biggest area of ​​concern appears to be the pitching staff. The Royals will need to exit the organization to add at least one or two starters (particularly if Greinke doesn’t return to free agency), and they’re obviously hoping for better results from Lynch and Bubic in 2023 and beyond. .

Kansas City becomes the sixth MLB team without a permanent manager in place. The Blue Jays and Phillies have interim skippers in John Schneider and Rob Thomson, respectively. These teams qualified for the playoffs. Rangers turned to Tony Beasley on an interim basis after sacking Chris Woodward, while the White Sox went with Miguel Cairo once Tony La Russa pulled out due to health issues. The Marlins, meanwhile, have already announced that Don Mattingly will not return as skipper next season. There will be quite a bit of turnover on the managerial front around the league, although the Angels solidified their situation this afternoon by signing Phil Nevin to a one-year contract and removing the interim tag from his title.

Image courtesy of USA Today Sports.

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