A Kings of Kauffman writer and longtime follower of the KC Royals reveals his personal Royals-related New Year’s Resolutions for 2020.
I’m not big on New Year’s Resolutions. In fact, I can’t remember the last time I made any or even considered making any. Whenever it was, and whatever they were, I’m certain I broke every resolution I made. (And it probably didn’t take me long to do it). But for some reason, I decided to make some personal resolutions this year concerning the KC Royals. Here they are.
Any future discussion about Yost, however, might tempt me to complain. Under Yost, the club made it to the World Series in 2014 and won it in ’15, but those two seasons were two of the only three winning campaigns Yost managed in 10 Royal seasons. Two Yost-managed teams lost over 100 games; two others lost at least 90. Many of his rosters were weak, but managers must share some of the blame.
To me, Yost was an inferior handler of pitching staffs. He tended to let badly pitching pitchers stay in games too long and to pull well-performing pitchers too soon. And those who credit him with the deadly back-of-the-pen trio of Kelvin Herrera, Wade Davis, and Greg Holland–“HDH”–forget that HDH required only a one-run a lead, not any management. The phenomenon managed itself.
And I never recall Yost boasting, or even suggesting, that strategy and tactics were his strong suits. They weren’t.
Whether the club made two World Series trips more in spite of his managing than because of it is a question I’ve heard and pondered many times. His ability, however, to manage the personalities of 25 players for 162 games may mean the latter is the answer and not the former. But the opposite is possible.
Yost is the winningest manager in KC Royals’ history. He’s also lost more games than any other KC skipper. Both are predictable outcomes when someone manages more games for a club than any other skipper, as is the case with Yost.
Now, I’ll stop complaining about him.
Resolution Two: I’ll give Mike Matheny a chance. I love to analyze managers. Sometimes I’m right, sometimes I’m wrong. When managers are on the hot seat or I know they’re retiring or resigning, I can’t resist studying possible replacements. New KC Royals manager Mike Matheny is a case in point.
KC’s hiring of Matheny as an adviser after the Cardinals fired him convinced me in short order that he was Ned Yost’s heir apparent–after all, the club put Yost on the same path to succeed Trey Hillman. I wasn’t well acquainted with Matheny’s managing but wasn’t alarmed when he stepped into the Yost line of succession. Each of his Cardinal clubs had been winners and he was winning when he was fired.
I’d read, of course, about Matheny’s supposed difficulties in the Cardinal clubhouse and player-relations shortcomings, and he never seemed to use–or perhaps even accept–analytics, an increasingly disconcerting trait in today’s game. But his six straight winning seasons told me he must have been doing a lot of things right.
And he worked on things after arriving in Kansas City–he hired and worked with a media consultant, studied analytics and took some leadership courses. Only people trying to improve and rework themselves go to such lengths.
So the KC Royals may be getting a new, improved Matheny, not the version St. Louis fired. He’s a baseball lifer and proven winner. I may have reservations about him, but I’ll give him the chance he deserves.
Resolution Three: I won’t worry about a downtown stadium. I’ve known and loved two Kansas City baseball venues–old Municipal Stadium and Kauffman–originally Royals–Stadium. I’m not interested in a third.
I spent some of my childhood near Kansas City, a fortuitous event that made me a fan of the Kansas City Athletics. The A’s played at Municipal, a reliable old ballpark at 22nd and Brooklyn and the Royals’ first home while they waited for their new one to be built. I still see, in my mind’s eye, Municipal’s beautiful lush green field.
Kauffman has been a superb park since it opened. Never has it been in shambles or disrepair; timely upgrades and improvements continue. It’s a marvelous place for a ballgame.
Some cry out, however, for a new downtown stadium, one proponent contend will revitalize the area and pump great sums of money into the local economy. Opponents counter, among other things, that relocation will breed unbearable parking problems and crowd the area. And, they say, Kauffman’s continued vitality makes a new park unnecessary.
Current lease agreements and other logistical issues make an immediate move to a new stadium impossible. Yet, I worry about The K. I’ve been around long enough to know that power frequently gets what it wants. A downtown stadium isn’t the pipe dream many think it is. It’s a real possibility.
I realize that my stake in this is small–I’m a fan who likes to go to games at Kauffman. But I don’t live or pay taxes in KC. I don’t have a vote, and no one in Kansas City cares what I think about the issue. This one’s out of my control.
A new ballpark is, I believe, more than a fantasy. But build it, and I’ll still come. Unlike the A’s departure, it will be a move of venue, not of franchise. The Royals will still be near. So I’ll stop worrying.
Resolution No. 4: I’ll stop wondering if George Brett would make a good manager. I know, I know…George Brett‘s name rarely comes up in talk about who could manage the KC Royals. But the idea of the club’s best-ever player managing it has intrigued me since Brett served two months as KC hitting coach in 2013. Being back in the dugout helping the young, up-and-coming Royals seemed to please Brett, and his presence there triggered rumblings about him managing.
The notion that being a great player would necessarily make Brett a good manager has nothing to do with why I wonder if he could manage. I don’t subscribe to the theory that great players should make great managers or coaches; many great athletes fail in those roles.
No, I wonder if Brett has what it takes to manage because he’s a student of the game who always took it seriously–he’s seen, done and thought about a lot. He played for some excellent managers–Whitey Herzog, Dick Howser, Jack McKeon–and his focus was so fine that he certainly learned much from them. He is baseball savvy.
I suspect Brett might be good and would command the respect of his players and coaches. I suspect attendance would spike. But I also suspect we’ll never see George Brett in the dugout again–I’m convinced he’ll never manage the club and probably has no interest in the job. He seems quite content in his front-office role, his annual Spring Training coaching gig, and in occasionally mentoring young players. So I’ll stop thinking about it and assume Brett would have managed well.
Resolution No. 5: I’ll honor Alex Gordon‘s decision, no matter what it is. For the first three months of the 2015-16 offseason, the KC Royals waited anxiously to see if Alex Gordon, fresh from a Gordon-like good season and World Series championship would, as a new free agent, choose to ply his trade elsewhere. After remaining silent for almost three months, Gordon signed a four-year, $72 million contract with a $23 million option for a fifth season.
This winter is not much different. The Royals declined the option and paid Gordon a $4 million buyout; he became a free agent in November and has been silent since. What is different this time is Gordon’s performance–except for 2019, it deteriorated from the start of his new deal. But although he improved last season, Gordon hasn’t yet revealed (at least not publicly) whether he’s returning or retiring. So we wait.
Retirement would be reasonable. Gordon turns 36 and he’s played 13 big league seasons; the grind has been long for a player who’s probably in the twilight of his career. His legendary workout regime and work ethic keep Gordon in excellent shape, but he’ll inevitably require more days off.
Too, Gordon on the team will at least partially impede the Royals’ ability to fully evaluate the big league suitability of players like Bubba Starling and Brett Phillips–new Royal Maikel Franco will play third base, moving Hunter Dozier to right field and Whit Merrifield to center. Presumably, Starling and Phillips will fight over left field if Gordon retires, or for a backup spot if he returns.
Retiring now enables Gordon to exit on a relatively high note–a decent season compared to the first three of his four-year deal. Gordon was miserable at the plate those first three campaigns: he hit .220 in 2016, .208 in ’17 and .245 in ’18, averages unheard of for most of his career and far below the high expectations his huge contract justified. But 2019 was much better.
Gordon’s average increased to .266, up 21 points from 2018 and his highest since 2015. His on-base percentage, slugging percentage, OPS and OPS+ were all his highest since 2015. He hit 13 home runs, equaling his 2018 total, and hit more doubles and drove in more runs than he had since 2014. He struck out fewer times than he had in any season since 2015. And he won his seventh Gold Glove.
At the same time it supports retirement, Gordon’s vastly improved play also helps makes the case for one more season. His hitting is still adequate, his defense still good, and there are signs Gordon and the club share interest in his return.
I, for one, am torn. One part of me wants Gordon to return–he’s still a Gold-Glover and, if 2019 is reliably predictive, he can still handle a bat. His leadership and example-setting work ethic could prove invaluable as the Royal rebuild continues. For at least 2020, Gordon’s play and presence may make the KC Royals better. Selfishly, I wouldn’t mind seeing him play another year.
On the other hand, retirement makes sense. Because the Royals won’t contend, 2020 offers a good (and perhaps final) opportunity for the club to further evaluate Starling and Phillips; Gordon’s departure would open up left field and create even more time for that evaluation. And although his improved 2019 is some evidence that Gordon can still be Gordon, it offers no guarantee that he will be. 2019 gave Gordon something certain–a good final season and high note upon which to bow out.
Personally, I lean toward retirement. Gordon is a future Royals’ Hall of Famer who’s given the club and fans countless great memories and helped fuel the World Series trips. At his age, and with 13 seasons already behind him, a successful 2020 isn’t a given. Gordon’s last season should be a good one; 2019 gives him just that.
But whatever Gordon chooses, I’ll respect his decision. You’ll hear no complaints from me.
There are my 2020 New Year’s Resolutions. As I finish this story, I just started wondering if George Brett would be a better manager than Mike Matheny…