KC Royals: Manager faces difficulties before season starts

(Photo by Ed Zurga/Getty Images)
(Photo by Ed Zurga/Getty Images) /

Assuming the managerial reins of the KC Royals wasn’t going to be easy for the club’s new skipper. Now, he’s confronting hardships before the season can even begin.

Taking on the job of managing the KC Royals was never going to be easy for Mike Matheny.

Matheny comes to the task seeking baseball redemption after winning three division titles and a National League pennant with the Cardinals, but cast aside two years ago by them amid controversy over his tactical acumen, one player’s treatment of another, and speculation he’d lost the clubhouse.

That he’s also replacing, with some Royals’ fan and follower disenchantment, the retired Ned Yost, a manager revered by many in Kansas City for leading the Royals to two pennants and a World Series, doesn’t help.

And Matheny inherited concerns and problems. Immediately confronting him even before spring training were injuries to stars Salvador Perez and Adalberto Mondesi that made their readiness for Opening Day uncertain. Perez came to camp in the latter stages of recovering from Tommy John surgery; Mondesi arrived recuperating from offseason surgical repair of a twice-injured shoulder.

Adding to the problems Yost passed on to the new skipper was a shaky starting rotation, a shakier bullpen, and an uncertain situation at first base. And the club decided to rework its outfield and acquired a new third baseman in the offseason.

Then, COVID-19 halted spring training just two weeks shy of the season’s scheduled first games, derailing Matheny’s efforts to evaluate KC Royals personnel and assemble an Opening Day lineup and roster worthy of improving on the club’s two straight 100-plus loss seasons.

But the coronavirus wasn’t finished with Matheny or the Royals. Unknown publicly until he disclosed it Saturday was Matheny’s personal bout with the virus–he caught it during the game’s forced hiatus.

The manager’s personal news actually followed close on the heels of Perez’s own disclosure that, although asymptomatic, he recently tested positive for COVID-19. Under baseball’s current rules, he’ll be able to return to the club as soon as receives two negative tests.

Matheny had also welcomed back popular and effective coach Rusty Kuntz, renowned for not only his skills in the first base box but also for his work with the organization’s outfielders at all levels. Kuntz, who agreed to return to the dugout after working in the front office and the minor leagues for two years, will go back to an off-field role after consulting with team officials and medical personnel–at 65, he’s among those at a heightened COVID-19 risk.

The good news is Kuntz has reportedly told the club he plans to be back on the field next season.

So it is that things had changed by the time the KC Royals started “Summer Camp” Friday, then changed more over the weekend. All in all, Matheny’s initial preseason run as Kansas City’s manager has been more troublesome than anticipated; he already had big questions to answer before baseball’s late July start. Hopefully, things will settle down and the new skipper can concentrate on getting his new charges ready for their truncated season.

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Mike Matheny is confronting unanticipated obstacles as he readies the Royals for their first season under his leadership. Let’s hope he overcomes them and has a successful first campaign with his new team.