As the 2023 season came to a close, speculation spread about which KC Royals leader was going to lose their job. After all, someone had to get fired after the team tied the franchise loss record, right? Right? The answer is no, nearly three weeks after the season's conclusion.
It is right for Royals fans to be frustrated. They suffered through 162 games of some of the worst baseball this team has ever seen. The 2023 Royals dug a deep hole at the start of the season and just could not climb out. But anyone hearing from the front office ahead of this season had low expectations. Even owner John Sherman explicitly called this an evaluation season at the mid-season mark.
The Royals had several people in their first year in their respective positions. The major-league roster was nowhere near their peers. The farm system offered little immediate help. An aggressive front office with unlimited funds could have helped the team be better, but that approach would not be prudent or realistic. Things were bleak ahead of 2023, and the win-loss record quickly reflected that. But when you are at the bottom, the only way to go is up, right?
One of the key people who will bring this franchise back up in 2024 is manager Matt Quatraro. Plenty of fans called for his job after the 2023 performance, and frankly, that is understandable. But there are plenty of reasons why the team would be foolish to fire Quatraro. Those reasons illicited a response that made me wonder: What more do fans want from Quatraro?
Matt Quatraro drew unfounded criticism while managing the KC Royals in 2023.
The common critiques from Royals fans are that Quatraro is not passionate enough or that they do not agree with his lineup moves. Let's look at the latter first because it is the easiest one to address. Quatraro cycled through plenty of different lineups in 2023, not all of them successful. But what else was he supposed to do?
The 2023 Royals tied the 2004 team with 58 different batters this season. That is nine more than the league average this season, and that is a lot for a team with only one bat acquired at the trade deadline. This roster was under constant movement, and the coaching staff still had to evaluate the core talent they had on hand. The Bobby Witt Jr. leading-off experiment was frustrating, and where some inadequate batters bat, it is beyond frustrating at times. But there is something to be said that needed to happen to eliminate it as an option.
I have long believed the Royals have operated with a talent deficiency in recent seasons. 2023 was no different. Fans are right to be mad about, for example, a slumping Kyle Isbel or Michael Massey batting high in the order. But, in more cases than not, who else was Quatraro going to put there? Conventional lineup decisions are easy when a manager has a conventional team. I didn't like some of the decisions either. The reality is that unconventional choices came due to slumps, injuries, and simply a lack of talent.
Which is why it is important that Quatraro protect the talent he does have on the team.
“He really creates a good environment for us to be ourselves and go about our business the way we need to,” Massey said. “He is not always on you, but he is fighting for us on the field. I feel like that goes a long way with the guys in the clubhouse.”
I do not know how to quantify a person's passion, especially when you do not know said person. Royals fans do apparently, pointing to Quatraro's three ejections being less than the average manager. Let's look at the other managers this season with three or fewer.
There are plenty of future Hall of Famers, pennant winners, and World Series ring wearers on that list. Are they not considered passionate, then, since they don't argue with the umpires vehemently enough to be ejected? Some fans thought so of Quatraro, but that fallacy should disappear after seeing a list like this.
The fact is that 99% of Royals fans have no idea how Quatraro runs that clubhouse or how passionate he may or may not be. People exhibit that feeling and fire in different ways. Many successful people do so in a controlled manner.
“I was very lucky to work with Terry Francona,” Royals pitching coach Brian Sweeney said. “I see a lot of Tito in Q from a baseball perspective and a sense of humor. ... Not only can we work here in the dugout, we can also laugh and be personal together.”
Baseball fans know the stories of negative clubhouses and toxic leadership. That environment smothers anything good and anything fans love about the game. There has not been a bad word about how Quatraro runs the Royals as a manager. That is at least the right approach that will allow players to grow at the major-league level.
“He helps tremendously for young guys in their first year in the big leagues,” Samad Taylor said. “Just trying to keep as much stress off me as possible. He just reminded me that nothing in the game has changed. Just go out and play the same game that I did in Triple-A.”
Royals fans were traumatized by the good-guy approach after Dayton Moore's tenure. That took Quatraro's qualities to the extreme. Quatraro, being a good leader, should not outweigh his results at all costs or forever. But Quatraro controlled what he could. This offseason is a chance for the Royals front office to address that talent deficiency and make Quatraro's job more straightforward.