At times, KC Royals manager Mike Matheny appeared subdued as he skippered his club to a 9-2 season-ending loss to Cleveland Wednesday afternoon.
Perhaps it was because his club was losing for the 97th time this year.
Or maybe he already knew what the Royals would announce just a few hours later.
He’s no longer the Royals’ manager, and Cal Eldred is out as pitching coach:
Neither move is particularly surprising; only the timing might be. Matheny and Eldred have long been criticized, fan demands for their dismissal have long permeated social media, and, owing in no small part to maddeningly inconsistent and ineffective pitching, the Royals regressed this season after improving in 2021.
But why did J.J. Picollo, who took control of Kansas City baseball operations only recently, announce such significant changes late Wednesday night, only hours after the campaign ended, instead of Thursday when, per MLB.com KC beat writer Anne Rogers (Twitter link), he’s slated to meet the press?
We may never know why Picollo chose not to wait. Perhaps he was eager to serve immediate notice that change is indeed coming to this franchise, news he must know will bring immediate relief to, and spark new interest among, a fanbase so hungry for things to be different.
Maybe he wanted to get ahead of any potential leaks.
Whatever the reason, the news is out. Making a timely decision allows Picollo and his front office lieutenants to begin the process of finding a new manager and pitching coach, key staffers whose input will be vital in making the critical offseason decisions lying ahead—it won’t be long before the club must reset its 40-man roster for Rule 5 Draft purposes, decide to whom contracts will be tendered, and consider potential trades and free agent signings.
Matheny, who replaced Hall of Famer Tony La Russa as St. Louis manager after the Cardinals won the 2011 World Series, led the Royals to a 26-34 record for the pandemic-shortened 2020 season, a 74-88 campaign last year, and a disappointing 65-97 last-place finish this season. Eldred’s five-year tenure as pitching coach was underwhelming and he coached one of the majors’ most ineffective staffs this season.
No other staff changes were announced Wednesday night.
Who might the KC Royals choose to replace Mike Matheny and Cal Eldred?
Expect Picollo to fill Matheny’s spot first—after all, managers should have significant say in a team’s choice for its pitching coach. That the club didn’t fire bench coach Pedro Grifol, who’s interviewed for other big league managerial jobs, including Kansas City’s before Dayton Moore hired Matheny, suggests he may be a candidate. In fact, we projected Grifol, among others such as Joe Girardi and Joe Maddon, as potential replacements for Matheny earlier in the season.
Another name sure to be mentioned is that of former Yankee great Don Mattingly, who won’t return to manage Miami next season. The Royals could also consider Triple-A Omaha manager Scott Thorman.
But don’t plan on Kansas City replacing Eldred with an internal hire. The Royals’ recent pitching development history is substandard and doesn’t bode well for promotions from within. Instead, Picollo should carefully scrutinize candidates to guarantee a good philosophical match with the direction he intends to take the club’s major and minor league hurlers. Identifying potential Eldred successors will be easier when Picollo details his own philosophy.
For now, KC fans should relax and watch how Picollo goes about the business of picking a new manager and new pitching coach.
Mike Matheny and Cal Eldred are no longer with the Royals.