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The Right Moves Continue with Quatraro
They started by saying the right things. Now they're doing them.
The offseason for the Kansas City Royals officially started on October 5, but the dismissal of Dayton Moore on September 21 was what truly kicked things off. At that time, John Sherman spoke about a different way of doing things for the franchise. He also announced that the move came with JJ Picollo moving to the top of the baseball operations leadership team. That isn’t news at this point, but I want to make sure the beginning of the picture is painted appropriately.
At that moment, the talking started. It’s very easy to talk; it’s easy to say what you think people want to hear. But there were questions that I believe were very fair questions wondering if things would actually be different under Picollo, given his proximity to Moore for essentially the entire time since Moore became the general manager of the club more than 16 years ago. For many reasons, I believed things would be different, but the Royals play in Missouri, and people needed to be shown that.
I think they were pretty quickly when Mike Matheny and Cal Eldred were let go the night of the final game of the season. I’m not convinced that would have happened with Moore in charge. But that was the easy part if we’re being honest. A team that was expected internally to be roughly average was so far away from average that someone had to pay. Multiple people likely had to pay and they ultimately did with the manager and the pitching coach losing their jobs. But the tough decision was who was going to be in their places. We now know one of the two roles, and I personally believe the hire should say enough to answer your questions of whether or not things would be different with Picollo in charge.
I buried the lede in a big way because you all know that Matt Quatraro is the new manager of the Kansas City Royals. He’ll officially be announced on Thursday as the 18th to be in that position. He’s a different hire than we’ve seen before, at least for quite some time. The last hire, Matheny, was brought in as a part of the front office after the Cardinals fired him. He was ultimately named the 17th manager. The hire before him, Ned Yost, was brought in as a part of the front office after the Brewers fired him. He was ultimately named the 16th manager. Before those two was Trey Hillman. I don’t know what to make of that, but he was definitely a hot managerial candidate. I also don’t think he would have been that popular of a candidate today. The information available to everyone is simply quite different.
Quatraro has never worked for the Royals. Who he has worked for after his playing career is the Rays and the Indians/Guardians. When you’re making a list of the most successful lower-revenue clubs over the past 15 years, those are one and two in some order. I think the A’s and Brewers belong in there as well, but Tampa Bay and Cleveland have some special sauce. (Edit: It should absolutely be noted that the Royals are the only one of the bunch to win a World Series, so if they can capture that magic with the magic of Cleveland and Tampa Bay, woo boy.) And Quatraro has been with both of them. He began his big league coaching career as an assistant hitting coach with Cleveland under Terry Francona and then ultimately moved on to be the third base coach in Tampa Bay for a year before becoming the bench coach the last four years under Kevin Cash.
Cash, of course, was a bullpen coach with Cleveland under Francona before he was hired by the Rays. Both Cash and Francona are among the most successful managers in the game. In fact, since Cash was hired by the Rays, he and Francona are two of the three winningest managers in all of baseball. There are some sample size gymnastics there because there aren’t a lot of managers who have been in place since 2015, but there’s a reason both have been in their jobs for so long and Quatraro has had the great opportunity to work under and learn from both of them.
He’s been a part of winning teams in each of the nine seasons he’s been a big league coach. Does that mean he’s instantly going to turn the Royals into a winner? Of course not. The odds are stacked pretty high against him to continue that streak to a tenth season. But he’s been a hot candidate for at least the last couple of managerial hiring cycles and the Royals are the team that has the chance to end up with him. One thing that I keep coming back to is how glowing the reports are about Quatraro. And that’s not just from random coaches or a few players. The comments you hear around the game are basically from everyone. That’s a good sign.
But back to what it means for the Royals and how they’re changing, I think this hire signals something is very different. They easily could have promoted Pedro Grifol to the job. I think Grifol probably would have been an excellent hire. Maybe we’ll find out just how good he is if the White Sox do what I think is the smart move and hire him. I’d bet on Ozzie Guillen there because that’s just the sort of thing they do, but Grifol has a shot there at the last opening in the field. But they could have gone that safe route with him. But they didn’t. I was under the impression from many that Dusty Wathan was the favorite for the job, but I’ve heard from a couple of different people that things just didn’t line up great in the interview.
To me, that’s a good sign. The old Royals would have just gone ahead and hired who they thought they’d want to hire at the start of the cycle. It would be easy to see the Wathan name, and the similarly glowing reports from around the game about Wathan and make that move. And maybe it would work out beautifully, but they have the interview process for a reason and when that process leads them to Quatraro over Wathan, that’s where they headed. Now, as I’ve reported before, the Royals have been described as “enamored” with Quatraro, so it’s not like they completely reversed course, but I just think that’s a good sign that they are going through a different sort of process than we saw for the last couple of hires.
This hire doesn’t mean they’re done, of course. Truthfully, while this is the top man in the dugout, the more important hire is still to come on the pitching side. I continue to hear from a few different people that the Royals are open to a lot of different structures with their coaching for the pitchers. Brian Bannister is a name that hasn’t fallen off the radar for the Royals. The question is if he’s the day-to-day pitching coach in the organization or if he’s someone who is brought in to oversee everything. And if he is brought in, but not as the pitching coach, then who?
I wrote that big list of candidates after Eldred was let go. With Quatraro in the fold, will he look to go to the Rays well? I don’t believe anyone would be too upset by that given their success. But does that mean Winston Doom, who has the greatest name of any candidate? Or is it Jorge Moncada, their minor league pitching coordinator? Or is it someone who is sort of unknown in their organization and deserves a shot? Or maybe he’s had someone in mind from his Guardians days like Joe Torres? My top choice remains Connor McGuiness from the Dodgers, but I imagine we’ll get a fair amount of clarity on that in the next couple of weeks.
The coaching staff will be interesting in general. The pitching coach is the most important, but Quatraro will need to hire a bench coach and additional coaches. We know the hitting coaches will mostly remain in place, though there might be some juggling. I wouldn’t be too terribly surprised if Vance Wilson ends up as Quatraro’s bench coach. I wrote the other day that they might want someone familiar with the team in that role with an outsider taking over. Or maybe Quatraro has someone of his own in mind. But they’ll need to fill that role, third base coach and bullpen coach in addition to that pitching coach. Those will fall in place soon.
I, personally, believe the Quatraro hire is an outstanding one. He’s young, analytical and incredibly well-respected. He will do things that make us scratch our heads because the fact of the matter is that every single manager does. Even the very best. And it may not work out. There’s a risk with every single hire a team makes.
A new manager who has never done it before could find himself in over his head. A veteran manager who is with a new team could find that his voice isn’t the same in a different clubhouse. There are no guarantees, but I believe this to be the right hire and the best hire. And I believe it’s a hire of someone they targeted from the beginning and let the process play out to show them whether they were right or wrong. But maybe more important than any of that is they’re walking the walk after they talked the talk to start the offseason. I haven’t trusted the process for a long time, but I’m starting to again now.