It seems pretty likely that former St. Louis Cardinals manager, Mike Matheny, a current special adviser to player development for the Royals, (he was hired after his firing by the Cardinals last season), is the favorite to be the heir apparent to Ned Yost in Kansas City. However, while Matheny may be the one in the early lead, Pedro Gomez of ESPN did drop this today:
When compared to Grifol, Matheny may seem on paper to be the safer choice for General Manager Dayton Moore: Matheny has a year of experience in the organization, and he accumulated a 591-474 record over six-and-a-half seasons with the Cardinals, which included a National League Pennant in 2013. At the surface, it seems like Moore, who may be eager to change the Royals fortunes after two poor seasons, would be foolish NOT to hire Matheny considering his performance as Cardinals manager (he never had a losing season as manager of the Cardinals).
And yet, the Royals not only could do better than Matheny…but they NEED to do better. While the tenure of Yost brought some incredible highs (who can forget #Yosted), the last two years certainly were rough. And the difficulty of the past two years showed at the ticket office, as attendance at Kauffman has dwindled from 2,220,370 in 2017 to 1,665,107 in 2018 to 1,479,659 this season. To see a difference of around 800,000 fans within a three year period is not good, and it’s a sign that this fan base is desiring a leader and a manger that will give this club hope that it can be a winner again after two straight years of 100-plus losses.
Unfortunately for frustrated Royals fans, it’s hard to see Matheny inspiring the Royals faithful to not only come to the ballpark, but to be more hopeful in general when it comes to the direction of this club. For new owner John Sherman, that is not exactly the way to start a new regime, especially one that hasn’t proven much on the field since their World Series title in 2015.
I am not trying to completely dump on Matheny as a manager. After all, a manager doesn’t have winning percentage of .555 if he’s terrible. But when it comes to building this club not just next season, but in the future, the Royals need someone who is open to thinking outside the box when it comes to managerial strategies, and somebody who can mentor young players while maintaining a stable clubhouse.
And unfortunately, Matheny has failed to do a lot of those things over the course of his career.
Matheny is noteworthy for his stubbornness to using sabermetrics and analytics when it comes to management. In an article by Royals Review EIC Max Rieper about the internal managerial candidates for the Royals, this was said about Matheny’s strategies:
Several of his strategies came under fire from Cardinals fans, including his rigidity to bullpen roles, using “pitcher wins” and “saves” as factors in decisions, using small sample sizes to inform lineup decisions, and wearing down his bullpen. He finished dead last among all active managers in Baseball Prospectus’ Reliever Management metric at the time of his firing.“Let’s look at the internal candidates to be Royals manager” Royals Review, Oct. 2, 2019
Furthermore, one of the key strategies that has led the Royals to success (after all…”that’s what speed do”) has been their aggressiveness when it comes to stealing bases, and unfortunately for Royals fans, Matheny hates running on the basepaths. In his seven years as manager, he never called for more than 89 stolen base attempts in his seven seasons as manager. To put things in perspective, Yost had 6 of 9 seasons where his teams attempted 100 or more stolen bases, and in two of the seasons, they had 99 and 97 attempts. In fact this year, the Royals had 83 stolen base attempts, the lowest number under Yost in his career as manager, but ties the second-most attempts in a year for Matheny.
If Matheny is manager, they are playing a more conservative style of ball, which may not endear to Royals fans who are not just used to the days of Jarrod Dyson, Lorenzo Cain and Terrence Gore, but also Adalberto Mondesi, who swiped bag after bag with ease (despite dealing with injury) in 2019. Maybe Matheny’s strategy is less risky, but considering how bad the 5-9 hitters were in 2019, a more “station-to-station” approach may not produce much improvement in 2020.
But, I understand every manager is different. There are conservative managers like Bruce Bochy who may not steal a lot of bases and sub more than they need to, but they are still successful. So though I would miss the stolen bases, I can live with it. But what I can’t live with as a Royals fan is a manager who either can’t control the clubhouse, or is inconsistent with their managing style. Maybe it’s the high school teacher/coach in me, but when managers or coaches play favorites, especially in baseball, where the 162 game season can almost be an eternity, it just drives me insane. And that’s where Matheny eliminates himself from serious consideration: his track record in this area is poor at best.
The stories of how he let the abrasive and overrated Bud Norris run the bullpen, which had negative effects on the Cardinals’ younger pitchers (Jordan Hicks being the prime example), mirrors many of the stories of the Royals under Trey Hillman in 2010, where a bunch of jerks on the Royals pitching staff nearly drove Danny Duffy, one of the anchors of this pitching staff as of late (though that hasn’t been hard to do considering how bad they have been the past couple of years), out of baseball. The last thing the Royals needs is an old-school jerk who will either bury or fail to develop the young talent in this organization. The Royals have invested too much money and time the past couple of years to see their top prospects fail at the Major League level, especially pitchers Brady Singer and Jackson Kowar, and outfielder Khalil Lee, who all will likely debut at some point next year. Moore needs them to be productive if he wants to justify his tenure as GM for the future under new ownership, and he needs a manager who can help him in that process.
But it’s hard to see Matheny fit that mold. Not with his history (or lack thereof) of player development in St. Louis.
So, Moore and the Royals need a manager who can push this club’s strengths (the basepaths), while helping mentor younger players and maintain a clubhouse culture that was pretty solid under Yost. That sounds like a tall feat, but in reality, that candidate is already in the clubhouse. Yes, some Royals fans will point to Dale Sveum, who has more of a track record as a manager from his days in Milwaukee.
However, the best candidate to succeed Yost in 2020 is current quality control/catching coach Pedro Grifol.
Yes, Grifol doesn’t have the MLB managerial experience of Matheny or Sveum. He’s not a former player who achieved glory in the Royals organization or elsewhere (like Raul Ibanez, another candidate). He’s not the kind of sexy name that’s going to burn Twitter or the airwaves on 610 or 810 AM radio in the mornings. People will look at his resume and think “Really? He was the best we could get?”
But Grifol is the best (and most realistic) candidate for the Royals manager job and Moore would be foolish to look elsewhere.
First off, Grifol has the kind of open mindset that has correlated to success of other managers across the league. According to Rieper, Grifol has been an advocate for using sabermetrics in his coaching approach, as evidenced by this quote below:
Grifol has served as an ally of the analytics department and a conduit for integrating their ideas with players, telling Rustin Dodd, “I love combining the old-fashioned gut feel and looking at the large sample numbers to see how they match.”“Let’s look at the internal candidates to be Royals manager” Royals Review, Oct. 2, 2019
Furthermore, his experience in the minors in the Mariners organization demonstrates that he can relate and develop younger players, which is sorely needed for a club that has gotten mixed results from their younger players the past couple of seasons. While Matheny would most likely bury the younger guys in favor of veterans, it seems more likely that Grifol would do the opposite.
In fact, Grifol’s profile mirrors Twins manager Rocco Baldelli. Much like Grifol, Baldelli didn’t have a whole lot of MLB managing experience either when he took over for Paul Molitor in 2019, but he was open to new ideas, and he knew how to mentor and relate to his younger roster due to his experience coaching in the minors (which was important since many of them were coming off atrocious seasons). The result? An AL Central Division title and 101 wins (they won 78 a season ago and pretty much had the same roster from 2018).
Lastly, one of the big reasons Grifol should be considered is how he has developed many of the Royals’ Latin American players on this roster, which is key considering many of the key Royals’ players now and in the future will be coming from this part of the world. Grifol cultivated a relationship with Salvador Perez that not only made Salvy the face of the franchise prior to his injury which kept him out of baseball this year, but also one of the best catchers in the American League. He was noted for helping turnaround Jorge Soler, who became the most captivating hitter Royals fans have seen at the K since George Brett and Bo Jackson.
As a Spanish speaker and hailing from Florida, Grifol has a track record of relating to players from Latin America, and that needs to be considered by Moore when it comes to deciding who will be the manager of this club going forward. Is the new manager going to be open and communicate well with players like Salvy, Mondi, Soler, etc.? Or is he going to struggle in communicating with them, which could isolate not only the club at the big league level, but have ripples with younger Latin American prospects within the system?
Without a doubt, a lot will be riding on Moore’s decision in terms of who will be the new Royals manager in 2020 (including his own job as general manager). Moore needs to get it right with this one, for even though Yost won two pennants and a World Series title, it was obvious that the club needed to move on if they wanted to take another step in the rebuilding process. Make no mistake: the Royals are still rebuilding. This club won’t make the playoffs in 2020 and maybe not in 2021. But they need to show progress. Another season of a 100-plus losses just won’t cut it.
Matheny would be a good manager in certain situations. I could see him being a good fit in San Francisco, where they can afford free agents, and the clubhouse culture has been one that has favored veterans. But for a young team that needs patience as well as consistent mentoring? Matheny is not the guy. On the flip side, Grifol is, and he should be selected, even if he doesn’t have MLB Managerial resume that Matheny sports.
So speak up Royals fans. Let the organization know whatever way possible. Email. Facebook. Twitter. Pigeon, etc.. Matheny is NOT the answer for the Royals as manager.
Instead, Royals fans, #VoteForPedro.