Even though the Chiefs are playing the first Thursday Night Football game of the year (on Amazon Prime of all formats), it was the Royals who commanded most of the news this morning.
And that wasn’t because of their series finale against the Twins at Target Field on Thursday night. Rather, it was due to the article by Alec Lewis, Rustin Dodd, and Andy McCullough (all former Royals beat writers) that dropped today on The Athletic.
Lewis, Dodd, and McCullough produce a sublime piece of team-oriented sports journalism that may be one of the most fascinating Royals-centric articles produced in years.
On one end, the article unveils an incredibly disappointing culture in the organization, especially in regard to pitching development. On the other end, Royals fans have to respect the effort and time put in by the trio of KC-based writers, who do their best to portray a picture of the Royals’ player development that is backed up by metrics and quotes, and not opinion.
I am not sure if Lewis is able to produce this piece while still employed as the Royals beat writer for The Athletic (he is currently the Minnesota Vikings beat writer, which just happened a few weeks ago). But while Royals fans lost a great provider of Royals coverage (Lynn Worthy of the KC Star and Anne Rogers of MLB.com are holding down the fort), they were treated to a great informative piece that uncovered a lot of what has plagued the Royals organization, especially since 2018.
And what are those issues?
Unfortunately, it has been a reliance on old-school coaching philosophies (particularly on the pitching end) throughout the Minor and Major League organizations that have focused on archaic practices, a resilience to truly embracing analytics, and a micromanaging approach that has only hampered many of the Royals’ talented young pitchers from the Minors to the Majors within the Royals system over the past five years.
That is a shame considering how much financially the Royals have invested in pitching since 2018.
This season Brady Singer has been a bright spot (as the article does rightfully point out). Unfortunately, Daniel Lynch, Jackson Kowar, Kris Bubic, and Asa Lacy (just to name a few) have struggled to find consistency at both the Major and Minor league levels over that timespan, which has only hampered the Royals’ outlook beyond this season.
Hence, are we seeing changes looming in Kansas City this Winter, particularly in the clubhouse and front office?
Ergo, is it possible that Royals fans could see the end of Dayton Moore’s reign in Kansas City by 2023?
One thing that particularly stuck out in The Athletic article was the lack of Moore’s name mentioned in the piece, especially in regard to what is currently being implemented to help turn things around at the Major League level.
In fact, early on in the article, it was JJ Picollo, not Moore, who was quoted when it came to expressing disappointment with how 2022 has gone.
“I’d be lying if I said this is what we expected,” said general manager J.J. Picollo, in his first season in the role since Moore was promoted to president of baseball operations last year. “We thought we’d have a better record right now. We still think we’re a better team.”“The Royals’ rebuild was supposed to be built on pitching. What has gone wrong?” by Alec Lewis; Rustin Dodd; Andy McCullough; The Athletic
And that could make things quite complicated this offseason for owner John Sherman, especially when it comes to Moore’s future in the Royals front office.
On one hand, it appears that Picollo is clearly in charge in terms of calling the shots when it comes to player and personnel decisions throughout the Royals organization.
When it came to the Trade Deadline? Royals fans only heard from Picollo. When it came to Jason Simontacchi being let go as Royals pitching coordinator? That came from Picollo. Even when it came to the issue of Lynch and Bubic this year (and what their outlook will be), Picollo was leading the charge, not Moore.
In fact, the last time Moore was quoted for anything came back on June 20th, when it seemed like he went out of his way to support the job (and attitude) of Royals pitching coach Cal Eldred. Of course, this wasn’t at Kauffman Stadium, but rather at a youth baseball camp in Johnson County (a suburb of Kansas City) that Moore and his “C You in the Major Leagues” charitable organization were hosting.
After Moore’s ill-fated interview which drew the collective ire of Royals fans everywhere? It’s been nothing but media-darkness from Moore. No radio interviews. No TV interviews. Everything Royals-related on an organization’s end has been handled by Picollo.
This should make Royals fans wonder if some changes are already brewing behind the scenes.
Is Moore pretty much in a glorified “Royals spokesman” role at this point? Is he pretty much a glorified George Brett who is out there to promote the Urban Youth Academy, and Royals Charities, and perhaps build goodwill and momentum among possible supporters (i.e. civic leaders) for a downtown stadium project to be completed within the next decade? Has Moore been stripped of all decision-making, and is Picollo pretty much the man in charge, ready to lead the Royals to the promised land amidst this “Process 2.0” that Moore started back in 2018?
Nothing has been made official, but it sure feels like that is the direction things are going with Moore as of now.
And that kind of “retooling” makes massive change throughout the organization less likely.
After all, if Moore has been the one who was responsible for a lot of these “cultural” issues in the pitching department prior to Picollo taking over, it would be hard to NOT give Picollo a chance to rectify things, at least for the next season.
It sounds like it was Picollo, not Moore, who led the charge for not just revamping the hitting development back in 2019, but also changing hitting coaches after a slow start this season.
And as of now, Picollo appears open to making the necessary decisions for the good of the overall organization.
But will he be able to make the necessary moves to rectify this sinking Royals ship in Kansas City, even if it means parting ways with many of the people who have been with this Royals organization for years?
If there has been one issue with this Royals organization during the Moore-era, it’s been an overly loyal history to those currently employed in the Royals organization.
On one end, that loyalty paid off in the eyes of the national media, especially a couple of years ago during the pandemic.
There is no question that what Moore and the Royals did for Minor League players during the pandemic was the right thing to do. In an era where organizations treat players as “commodities” and little else (looking at you Houston, Oakland, and Tampa Bay), the Royals truly treated people in their organization as “people”, whether they were multi-million MLB stars, or Minor League players who were hanging onto their baseball dream.
Moore and the Royals deserve all the credit for paying MiLB players during the pandemic, even when it would have been easy for them to not do so, especially with their small-market status and the organization in the midst of an ownership change.
And for a time, we, as Royals fans, thought it would pay off, with the goodwill from those actions resonating with free agents and possible draft picks. Early on, it seemed like that would be the case.
Unfortunately, good intentions and people can fall short. And that has been the case with the Moore-led Royals, who have not had a winning season since their World Series victory in 2015.
But this isn’t the Moore-led Royals anymore, perhaps.
This is the Picollo-led Royals.
And can Picollo be “different” enough to emerge from his mentor and predecessor’s shadow?
It will need to happen, and considerably so, if the Royals want to take the next step in the AL Central standings in 2023.
Picollo will need to see his talented young pitchers take the next step in 2023.
He will need to make major changes in how pitching development is structured from the Arizona Complex League all the way to Major Leagues. And that may require Picollo to part ways with some longtime staff members who have been with the Royals organization since Moore took over in 2006. Too many coaches in the Royals Minor League system have been around for far too long without the results to back up their tenures.
Those kinds of decisions will not be easy for Picollo.
But it will be necessary for him if he wants to save his job and turn things around in Kansas City. The Royals can’t keep doing the same things and expect different results.
We all know the phrase, after all.
The Athletic piece definitely opened a lot of eyes in the Royals fan kingdom, and honestly, it was a long time coming.
Royals fans need to understand that the Royals as an organization are “behind” the curve in a lot of things: pitching development, analytics, coaching, etc. Those kinds of archaic approaches cannot happen with a small market club with aspirations of another pennant and World Series in the near future. So much is already stacked against small-market clubs in Major League Baseball as it is.
It will be interesting to see what other changes occur this Winter.
Will perhaps Mike Matheny be gone, along with pitching coach Cal Eldred? Will the Royals revamp their pitching development with some coaches and coordinators who come from “outside” the Royals family? Will they make be more intentional in their embracing and investing in pitching analytics in 2023, signaling a new in Kansas City?
I guess Royals fans will have to wait and see, starting when the season ends for the Royals in early October.
My guess is that Royals fans will see something widespread in terms of change as soon as possible.
And if it doesn’t come from Picollo, it certainly will come from Sherman and the Royals ownership group.
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