Shortly after wrapping up a 69-93 season, Kansas City announced that manager Mike Matheny and pitching coach Cal Eldred will not return in 2023.
Just a few weeks ago, the Royals made massive changes atop the front office. Longtime president of baseball operations Dayton Moore was dismissed in late September, with general manager J.J. Picollo tasked to lead baseball operations. Picollo’s first major decision leading the organization is to make a leadership change in the clubhouse, and the Royals will now turn their attention towards finding a new skipper.
Despite moments of promise, the Royals once again found themselves in the cellar of the American League Central division.
Matheny’s dismissal closes the books on his three-year managerial tenure. Originally brought to the K.C. organization over the 2018-19 offseason as a special assistant, Matheny was almost immediately rumored as a likely successor to then-manager Ned Yost. When Yost stepped aside at the end of the 2019 season, the Royals indeed tabbed Matheny to return to the top of the dugout steps. The former big league catcher had spent six-plus years managing the Cardinals between 2012-18, and he obviously impressed the Royals front office.
It was a rough entrance, however, as Matheny was taking over a rebuilding roster. Kansas City had lost over 100 games in each of the preceding two years, so it wasn’t especially surprising they stumbled to a 26-34 mark during the abbreviated 2020 campaign. The following offseason, the Royals added Carlos Santana, Andrew Benintendi and Mike Minor in an effort to be more competitive. They were, to some extent, finishing with a 74-88 record that came with their highest win percentage (45.7%) since 2017.
Still, the improvements weren’t enough to make the Royals full-fledged competitors. After a 15-7 showing in April, they finished .500 or below in every ensuing month. Kansas City was surprisingly quiet last winter. The Royals reunited with Zack Greinke on a $13MM contract, but otherwise nothing notable had truly occurred.
All the while, the farm system thrived, which has been the cornerstone over the past two years.
The Royals carried top prospect Bobby Witt Jr. on the Opening Day roster. Within a couple months, MJ Melendez and Vinnie Pasquantino would join him. All three have gotten off to solid starts, with Witt and Pasquantino looking like above-average regulars from the outset. The team’s overall performance, though, went in the wrong direction. They won nine fewer games than they had in 2021, finishing with the fifth-worst record in the majors. Benintendi and longtime franchise cornerstone Whit Merrifield were traded away midseason, and the slide only continued from there.
Among the biggest reasons for the lack of progress was a starting rotation that ranked 26th in the majors with a 4.72 ERA. Of the seven K.C. starters to top 20 innings, five had an ERA of 4.93 or higher. That’s particularly disheartening considering the volume of talented young arms the Royals have seen reach the majors in recent seasons. Eldred was also heavily criticized for his perceived poor handling of the starting pitchers and relievers. There was just no consistency for Kansas City when it came to pitching, and the team as a whole suffered because of it.
Kansas City invested plenty of draft capital in bolstering their pitching pipeline, including using four of the top 40 overall selections in 2018 on college arms. Brady Singer, Jackson Kowar, Daniel Lynch and Kris Bubic were all brought in that year, but only Singer has taken the developmental strides the club had envisioned, whereas Bubic finished with one of the worst pitching records in all of baseball.
The Royals have continuously tried to rebuild, and in 2023, they’ll look to do so once again.