KC Royals: First test will come soon for J.J. Picollo
Never will there be a KC Royals win Salvador Perez doesn’t like. He appears to cherish each victory as much as he does the game itself.
But after his team’s 5-2 victory over Minnesota Wednesday night, a win his three hits, including an RBI double, had much to do with, something seemed a bit different. Selected as broadcaster Joel Goldberg’s postgame on-field interview, Perez’s smile wasn’t as big as usual. He spoke quietly and appeared distracted.
Perez seemed down, perhaps preoccupied by what unfolded just hours before when principal owner John Sherman announced the immediate departure of President of Baseball Operations Dayton Moore, the man Perez later told Kansas City Star beat writer Lynn Worthy he loves “…like a father.”
Now, Perez works for J.J. Picollo, who replaced Moore as general manager a year ago when Sherman promoted Moore to the job he no longer holds. Picollo is officially “Executive Vice President and General Manager,” but it’s clear he’s in control of the baseball side of things at Kauffman Stadium.
His first big test is soon to come.
J.J. Picollo must be ready for the tough moves the KC Royals need to make.
Moore engineered the long, painful rebuild that brought a World Series title back to Kansas City for the first time in 30 years and re-endeared the club to a community yearning for meaningful baseball. But sustaining a highly competitive team was something Moore didn’t, and maybe couldn’t, do, and the perception that his loyalty to veteran, albeit underperforming, players and staff hurt the franchise became proverbial reality—if it wasn’t actually reality to begin with.
Picollo must resist what Moore perhaps couldn’t. His first test will come soon when he ponders, probably and appropriately after the season ends, the future of third-year manager Mike Matheny, who has tried but failed to lead the Royals back to contention. Fan criticism of Matheny runs deep; while they don’t run the club, or hire and fire the manager, many of the faults those fans find with KC’s skipper aren’t unfounded. And the seat he’s on didn’t just become hot.
Complicating Matheny’s situation is the fact he’s Moore’s man, not Picollo’s. Moore brought him to Kansas City’s front office after the Cardinals no longer wanted him in the dugout he inherited from Tony La Russa after St. Louis won the 2011 World Series. Few doubted Matheny was Kansas City’s manager-in-waiting while Ned Yost wound down his career and, predictably, he quickly got the job when Yost retired after the 2019 campaign.
That Picollo didn’t hire Matheny to manage the Royals makes it more likely he’ll fire him. Picollo didn’t receive an entirely clean slate Wednesday, but he’ll need room to run things his way, with his people, as he sets about retooling and refining the team and its underlying baseball operations component.
And per the Kansas City Star’s Worthy, he’ll be the one to determine what happens to Matheny:
"“That’s J.J.’s job, to evaluate that,” Sherman said when asked if a managerial change could be forthcoming. “I’ll certainly spend time with him, and I’m interested in his thoughts on that. But I’m going to leave that to J.J.”"
Matheny’s is the most critical staff job below The K’s business suite level. It’s hard to imagine Picollo moving forward without his own man in the dugout.
The club picked up Matheny’s 2023 option this spring; don’t, however, expect that move to stand in the way of Picollo moving Matheny out. Sherman letting Moore go, especially this late in the season, signals his commitment to effect important change, and paying Matheny a year’s salary not to manage is an expense Sherman can and will bear.
Like Moore, Matheny isn’t a bad guy. Far from it. But the time has come for new vision off and on the field. Sherman made room for it off the field; it falls on Picollo to do likewise on it. He has that authority.
It’s Picollo’s show to run. He needs to be up to the task of making the tough choices and moves.
He needs to pass his first test.
Will J.J. Picollo let Mike Matheny go? Time will tell.