Royals GM Dayton Moore held a brief chat with Jon Heyman and Josh Lewin on the Big Time Baseball Podcast (audio link). We’ll touch on some of the highlights here.
With long-tenured manager Ned Yost having retired at the end of the Royals’ season, finding his successor is among the most important tasks on Moore’s plate. As of now, though, the Royals are still “vetting candidates” for the job and “have yet to go through a formal interview” with anyone, according to Moore. It seems in an ideal world, the club will promote Yost’s replacement from within. Moore talked up Royals assistants Mike Matheny, Dale Sveum, Pedro Grifol and Vance Wilson, declaring that they’re “strong candidates.”
Matheny, who possesses by far the most managerial experience of any of the Royals’ possibilities, was at the helm of a Cardinals club that went 591-474 with four playoff berths and an NL pennant from 2012-18. Moore, cognizant of the success St. Louis had in the standings during that run, contends Matheny’s “an amazing leader” who “won every single year” with the franchise. Although Matheny received plenty of criticism throughout time with the Redbirds, Moore’s impressed that he was able to successfully transition from a long career as a big league catcher to that of a manager – all while taking over for Hall of Famer Tony La Russa.
Since last November, a few months after his in-season firing with the Cardinals, Matheny has been serving as a special advisor in Kansas City. He’s “done excellent work” in that capacity, per Moore, who revealed Matheny “has options” and has been “sought out” by other clubs (though it’ s unclear if that implies teams are interested in Matheny as a manager).
Whether the Royals tap Matheny or someone else for the role, that individual will be facing the grueling task of trying to get immediate results in the standings for KC. The Royals are coming off their second straight 100-loss season, though Moore & Co. nonetheless “feel good about our core group of young position players.” He specifically named third baseman Hunter Dozier, right fielder Jorge Soler, shortstop Adalberto Mondesi (“one of the best talents in the game; just needs to get more consistent) and second baseman Nicky Lopez as potential building blocks who have age on their side. With the exception of Soler, whose contract is more complex than most, all of those players come with a few seasons of affordable control. As of now, it’s unknown whether the Royals will try to extend Soler, who’s coming off an age-27 season in which he mashed 48 home runs.
As effective as Soler was in 2019, second baseman/outfielder Whit Merrifield still may be the centerpiece of the Royals’ cast of position players. Merrifield will turn 31 during the offseason, but having signed a team-friendly extension last winter, the rebuilding Royals aren’t under pressure to deal him. Moore has always resisted doing so despite vast interest from other clubs. Now, “nobody is untouchable,” and the Royals need to be “open-minded” until they know which opportunities could present themselves. However, Moore continues to regard Merrifield as a “special talent” and a “special person,” which suggests the club’s more than content to move ahead with the well-rounded All-Star.
While the Royals do have some gems among their position players, they don’t look as well off on the pitching side. The Royals’ hurlers posted the majors’ fourth-worst ERA (5.20) this year, and Brad Keller – a 2017 Rule 5 acquisition – was their lone starter to put up average or better production across a full season. With those struggles in mind, Moore acknowledged that the Royals “gotta do a better job of developing pitching, acquiring pitching.”
Looking ahead to 2020, the Royals will likely be in for another lean year. “We’ve got a ways to go,” said Moore, who didn’t offer a timeline on a possible return to contention. As you’d expect, though, the longtime exec indicated he and the franchise are bent on orchestrating a turnaround.