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Tipsheet: Long-struggling Royals look to start over in Kansas City

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Royals Red Sox Baseball

Kansas City Royals' Scott Barlow reacts after walking in the tying run during the eighth inning of the team's baseball game against the Boston Red Sox, Friday, Sept. 16, 2022, in Boston.

Over on Missouri’s West Coast, the hapless Kansas City Royals are looking to hit the reset button.

Majority owner John Sherman has had seen enough losing. The Royals have not enjoyed a winning season since their remarkable 2015 World Championship run.

They have been playing at a 98-loss pace since 2017. Their ongoing tank-and-rebuild project has subjected K.C. fans to unrelenting failure. The Royals have developed some promising hitters in the last few seasons, but they have failed to develop pitching.

Going back to long, long before Sherman took control of the franchise, the Royals have enjoyed just three winning seasons since 1994. Three!

Mind you, the Royals were a model small-market franchise back in the 1970s into the early 1980s. They were in a much better place than, say, the Cardinals were before Whitey Herzog came over from the Royals and rejuvenated the Redbirds.

So Sherman wants to chart a new course. He fired president of baseball operations Dayton Moore, a respected old-school operator.

He promoted J.J. Picollo, Moore’s long-time aide, and tasked him with building a more modern, data-driven baseball operation.

Sherman also reiterated his wishes for a downtown ballpark for Kansas City with a surrounding commercial distract, following the lead of St. Louis, Atlanta and others.

Where does all of that leave manager Mike Matheny?

“That’s J.J.’s job, to evaluate that,” Sherman told reporters. “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 contract runs through next season, but his three seasons have produced 26-34, 74-88 and 61-89 records. So it’s safe to say that his job security has eroded.

“We’ve got a job to do,” Matheny said. “You don’t walk into this business with a blind eye that you’re going to walk out on your own terms. Change is inevitable in the game. But it’s not something that you should dwell on, in my opinion, because it’s one of those things that is out of your control.

“What we do control is how we prepare. How we come out here and compete. How we treat people with respect. How we respect the game. In the meanwhile, those things take care of themselves.”

Matheny hopes to handle the close of this season better than how he handled his final days with the Cardinals, when paranoia got the best of him.

“I’ve been a victim of it in the past, being so concerned, looking over my shoulder,” Matheny said. “Whether it’s as a player or in this role — one, you’re less effective. The second thing is, you don’t enjoy the ride. I’m encouraging these guys to enjoy the ride.”

Moore took the high road out of the organization, sticking around for the news conference announcing his dismissal and then personally thanking everybody in the baseball operation before he hit the exit.

“I can't say enough about the great support of this community, our fans, our sponsors,” Moore said. “Everything that makes Kansas City special is what we've tried to represent. I'm very proud of what we've accomplished here. I'm very proud of our culture. And I'm really excited about the future of the Kansas City Royals.

“John Sherman is a great owner. He's going to do wonderful things for this city. In baseball, when you don't win enough games, change sometimes is required. It's a part of it. We know that and accept it. Everything in life is for our learning, and I will continue to learn through this as well.”

Tipsheet is pulling for the Royals. We were around the franchise on a daily basis during the good times and we can feel the pain of fans who endured the decades-long struggle that followed.

TALKIN’ BASEBALL

Here is what folks have been writing about Our National Pastime:

Bradford Doolittle, ESPN.com: “Sixteen years into Moore's tenure in Kansas City, the Royals are on pace to reach the upper 90s in losses this season, the fifth full season of the club's current rebuild. Since the end of the 2017 season, the Royals have lost 98 of every 162 games they have played, a rate worse than all but two teams across baseball. But in Kansas City, Moore's departure from the Royals marks the end of an era -- one that was highlighted by two American League pennants and the 2015 World Series crown, the second title in franchise history. Those peak seasons from 2013 to 2017 were part of a five-year run in which the Royals won 80 or more games each campaign. The first of those seasons snapped a decade-long drought in Kansas City without a winning season and was just the Royals' second season on the right side of .500 since 1994. Still, those five seasons were the only ones during the Moore era in which the Royals reached as many as 80 wins. Moore inherited a catastrophe of a baseball operation when he took over the front office in Kansas City in 2006. The team didn't spend, either on the big league roster or in the areas of drafting and development . . . Though the organization's rebuild took more than a half-decade to come together, it was about more than restoring the Royals to competitiveness on the field. It was about restoring the integrity and credibility of a franchise that had once been the model operation in the majors during the days of Cedric Tallis, Joe Burke and John Schuerholz. Bringing back a whiff of that credibility, as much as the pennants and the championship, will be Moore's legacy in Kansas City.”

Dayn Perry, CBSSports.com:  “Moore, 55, will forever be a beloved figure in Kansas City for being the architect of the Royals teams that won the American League pennant in 2014 and then prevailed in the World Series in 2015. The 2015 title was the second in franchise history. The first came in 1985. The Royals under Moore, however, descended quickly from that high point. They slipped to .500 in 2016, and 2022 will make their sixth straight losing season. In 2018 and 2019, the Royals endured a combined 207 losses. While some impressive young talent has emerged from the protracted rebuilding process -- Bobby Witt Jr., most notably -- the trajectory hasn't been enough to spare Moore. They've graduated a number of promising prospects to the majors, but their recent inability to develop young pitching has been a notable weakness in terms of player development.  As well, Sherman, who bought the team from David Glass in November of 2019, wanted to take the franchise is a more modern direction, as he made clear shortly after Moore's termination was announced . . . Given the Royals' struggles and the mood of change, manager Mike Matheny would seem to be in danger of losing his job. Matheny across parts of three seasons as Kansas City manager has a record of 159-211 (.430). The Royals went into Wednesday's slate with a record of 59-89 and in fourth place in the weak American League Central.” 

Jack Baer, Yahoo! Sports: “Had it not been for the 2014 and 2015 seasons, the only question about Moore's firing would be why it hadn't happened sooner. Moore ascended to general manager in 2006. Since then, Kansas City has posted a losing record in all but three seasons. Overall, his teams have posted a 1,126-1,350 record. That languishing was interrupted starting in 2013, when the team posted its first winning record since 1994. The good times continued into 2014, when the Royals reached their first World Series since their 1985 title, only to lose to the San Francisco Giants, and 2015, when the team finally won a championship over the New York Mets. Long maligned by some as an old-school, stats-eschewing general manager, Moore's success was a win for the anti-Moneyball crowd, but it did not last. One year later, the team fell back to .500, and they haven't posted a winning record since. While it was generally accepted the team was going through a rebuilding cycle, the team saw no more success this year when its prospects finally started to reach the majors. Moore had received a vote of confidence this time last year when Sherman promoted him to president of baseball ops, but all that did was give the team a ready succession plan with Picollo, who was promoted into Moore's old spot.”

Kirby McDaniel, ESPN.com: “The first-place Cleveland Guardians turn late round college arms into good big leaguers (via velocity-training and pitch design) and generally build a big league team efficiently. The New York Yankees turn later round picks and low-dollar international signings into prospects (in a number of ways) and trade the middle-to-low-tier ones to prop up the big league team. The Los Angeles Dodgers teach hitters with untapped raw power how to lift the ball and often find improved command or pitch design for one-dimensional pitching prospects, with similar results on big league acquisitions. I could go on, but in fixing a development problem, an organization finds what it's best at, which then allows the executive team to lean into that competency and acquire more players like that -- whether in trade, free agency, or amateur signings/draft. The best organizations will shift and change their point of view over the years as the market reacts to what is working with the winning organizations. There are hidden benefits in being at the bottom of a rebuild, beyond the attention-grabbing high draft picks: top waiver order, players choosing you on minor league deals because of a better chance to play and 40-man roster spots that can be used on high-upside gambles. A good rebuild finds a few good -- maybe even core -- players in the two-to-three worst years via these routes.”

MEGAPHONE

“I'm definitely not a guy who hits three home runs very often. I've had a chance to do it a couple of times, but I tried to do too much. I just tried not to do too much and keep my swing tight.”

Milwaukee Brewers second baseman Kolten Wong, after his three-homer outburst.

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