Ranking the Royals Managers Candidates, Based on Early Reports

The manager “hot stove” news cycle has been quite scorching this week, as many clubs with openings have announced their hirings for the 2023 season.

Texas made the biggest splash, as they coaxed former Giants and Padres manager Bruce Bochy out of retirement, inking him to a three-year deal.

The Blue Jays on the other hand stayed in-house, as they took the “interim” tag off of John Schneider, who replaced Charlie Montoyo after a slow start.

It seemed like there were early reports on Friday that the White Sox had settled on Astros bench coach Joe Espada for their vacant position, as MLB Insider Mike Rodriguez reported that Espada would be the next manager on the South Side:

It seems like the report was rash though, and no other reporters have confirmed the deal.

Ironically, not too long after the Espada “announcement”, reports surfaced that the White Sox were planning to interview Ozzie Guillen, who lead the White Sox to their last World Series title in 2005:

As for the Royals, there have been some interviews conducted and scheduled, which gives Royals fans an idea of who could be on the club’s radar when it comes to Mike Matheny’s replacement.

Here’s a ranking of who is most “likely” to be the Royals’ new manager based on reports so far, and what Royals fans should think of the possibility of each managerial candidate and their possible impact on the club in 2023 and beyond.

5. Vance Wilson, Royals Third Base Coach

Shortly after the conclusion of the 2022 season, and the announcement that Matheny and pitching coach Cal Eldred would not return for 2023, Royals GM JJ Picollo announced that Royals bench coach Pedro Grifol and third base coach Vance Wilson would be considered for the vacant managerial position.

The Wilson news was surprising since I do not think he was on many Royals fans’ radars for the managerial position at any point. Furthermore, Wilson’s coaching at third base was the subject of frequent criticism from Royals fans, as the Royals seemed to get thrown out at home more than typical for a Major League team.

Does Wilson have a chance to be the Royals’ manager? Perhaps, especially since he has been a manager in the Royals minor league system before (he was previously a manager in High-A Wilmington and Double-A Northwest Arkansas).

That said, I think Wilson is not returning as the third base coach, and the Royals let him interview for the managerial position out of courtesy.

It is likely that Wilson will not return to the Royals organization in 2023 in any capacity.

4. Clayton McCullough, First Base Coach, Los Angeles Dodgers

McCullough comes from the Dodgers organization which not only is known for developing pitchers within their farm system but is also the same club that hitting coordinator Drew Saylor was in before arriving in Kansas City after the 2019 season.

Thus, it would make sense for Sherman and Picollo to continue to tap that Dodgers well, especially considering Saylor’s success with turning around the Royals’ hitting development in the Minor Leagues.

It is also possible that McCullough could bring someone from the Dodgers player development system who could help bring similar Saylor-esque results in the Royals system, but this time on a pitching end.

Early reports had McCullough as the favorite for the Royals’ managerial position at the conclusion of the MLB regular season:

Unfortunately, we have not heard much about McCullough as a candidate for the Royals since that Morosi report. There has been no mention that McCullough has been interviewed or is scheduled to be interviewed with Picollo and the Royals front office.

The Dodgers’ first base coach certainly has the credentials to be a good fit on the Royals bench. And yet, we will need to at least some kind of mention of him being “interviewed” for him to emerge as a serious candidate (and he’s not being mentioned for other jobs either, which makes one wonder if he really is looking for a manager position this offseason).

3. Pedro Grifol, Royals Bench Coach

Going into this offseason, I considered Grifol as the favorite to be the Royals’ manager in 2023.

With the return of Alec Zumwalt, Mike Tosar, Keoni DeRenne, and Damon Hollins to the Royals staff, I figured Picollo would value continuity and familiarity and go with Grifol, who was a candidate for the Royals managerial position back in 2019.

Grifol has been a managerial candidate in the past, and not just with the Royals. He was considered for the Giants and Tigers jobs in 2020, and this year, he has already interviewed for the vacant White Sox and Marlins jobs as well (and appears to be a serious candidate).

Grifol offers the Royals, and any MLB team, a lot as a potential manager.

He is bilingual, open to analytics, and cut his teeth as a player and coach in the Minor Leagues, which demonstrates that he is willing to do what is necessary to succeed as an MLB manager. The Royals need that kind of personality, especially with the amount invested in Latin American talent, and the need for the Royals bench to do a better job of applying data on a regular basis.

On the other hand, the Royals not only require a fresh perspective from the managerial position, but they also need someone who can provide a connection for their vacant pitching coach position.

While it is unclear what the Royals will do with their pitching development at the Minor League level (that appears to be a priority for Picollo and owner John Sherman), it appears that the new manager will have some input when it comes to Grifol’s replacement.

And unfortunately, I just don’t think that Grifol, who’s been in the Royals organization for quite some time, would have any serious or valuable coaching connections that could help turn this pitching staff around at the Major League level.

2. Dusty Wathan, Third Base Coach, Philadelphia Phillies

The son of former Royals catcher and organizational coach John “Duke” Wathan (Wathan just announced his retirement this offseason), Wathan has emerged as a serious candidate for the Royals managerial position after reports this week surfaced that he was scheduled to interview.

The Phillies are in the midst of a National League Pennant run, as they are up two games to one on the San Diego Padres in the NLCS. Therefore, the busy postseason schedule, and Wathan’s responsibilities as the third base coach, could make a set date for Wathan’s interview difficult to project.

Nonetheless, Wathan checks all the boxes of what the Royals are looking for when it comes to a manager.

Wathan has the Royals ties, so Kansas City would not be a stepping-stone job for him. He also spent considerable time in the Phillies’ Minor League system and had considerable success as the manager of the Reading Phillies in the Eastern League to boot.

Wathan is also reported to be a heavy fan of analytics and uses it daily in his work as the Phillies’ third-base coach. And lastly, he has a solid rapport with players, and many Philly players lobbied for him for the vacant Phillies managerial position to replace Gabe Kapler (it eventually went to Joe Girardi which went…well, we all know).

The Royals would be lucky to hire Wathan. His connection to the Phillies Minor League system, which has had some success with pitching development (Aaron Nola, Ranger Suarez, etc.) would also be a huge boost in his favor as a candidate.

1. Matt Quatraro, Bench Coach, Tampa Bay Rays

Quatraro has been a hot candidate for a lot of managerial positions across the league, so there certainly will be competition out there for his services for 2023.

But Ken Rosenthal reported that Quatraro interviewed for the Royals managerial position this week, which in my opinion puts him as the lead favorite to be the Royals’ skipper in 2023.

And it’s not just Rosenthal reporting that the Royals are interested in Quatraro, but Jon Heyman of the New York Post also predicts that the Royals could make an offer to him to be the Royals manager, as he nearly got the Mets job last offseason.

While his position with the Rays will certainly stick out to analytically-inclined Royals fans, his experience with the Guardians organization is also a huge plus in his favor.

Sherman mentioned that he wants to build this Royals club more in the mold of the Guardians (where he was a minority owner) and Rays during his press conference after the Moore firing. Quatraro checks off both of those boxes, and his experience as a bench coach in Tampa (which is essentially second-in-command to the manager) also gives him a slight edge over Wathan as of now.

Quatraro doesn’t have the Royals ties like McCullough (whose dad is a scout in the Royals organization), Grifol, or Wathan. That being said, he brings a fresh perspective and has experience working in small market clubs that are not just analytically inclined but have had consistent success despite their difficult financial circumstances. The Royals need people in their organization that can do “more with less”, not to mention, be able to create a culture where winning can be the standard, regardless of the roster turnover.

If Picollo is serious about bringing in new perspectives who can turn around this Royals franchise in the near future, then Quatraro makes the most sense from this managerial candidate pool.

Bringing in Quatraro to be the Royals manager doesn’t make Kansas City a “Western” Rays or Guardians clone by any means…

But it shows that the Royals are taking a step in the right direction to be more data and player-development-driven as an organization at the Major League level…

Which in turn will match what Picollo and the Royals Player Development team are trying to do at the Minor League level, something that didn’t happen consistently under Moore’s tenure as GM/President.

Photo Credit: Mitchell Layton/Getty Images

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