Picollo 'prepared to move forward' in new role

Royals VP, GM talks about club's direction, offseason plan, potential Witt extension

September 25th, 2022

KANSAS CITY -- The Royals are in a transition period of moving on from Dayton Moore, their longtime top executive who was dismissed this week by owner John Sherman, and celebrating the promotion of new executive vice president and general manager J.J. Picollo.

Picollo recognizes that transition more than anyone. He’s worked for and with Moore for over three decades, first as coaches at George Mason University, then in the Braves’ front office, then in Kansas City, where Moore was hired as general manager on May 30, 2006.

Moore brought Picollo into the fold in August of that year as the director of player development. Since then, Picollo has held a variety of titles, most recently as the GM in 2022.

Picollo was more involved with the day-to-day operations of the Major League club and ran point on several of the Royals’ acquisitions, including trading the No. 35 pick in this year’s MLB Draft to Atlanta for a package of prospects -- headlined by center fielder Drew Waters -- and dealing Whit Merrifield and Andrew Benintendi at the Trade Deadline.

“Dayton gave me leeway to work,” Picollo said. “I’m really appreciative of that. I’m more prepared today than I was a year ago. … He’s always been a great mentor. He’s a friend. He’s taught us everything we know.

“He’s given us an opportunity in this game. I think all of us are prepared to move forward. And as he told me, ‘Just go to work. Just go to work.’”

After Sherman made the most significant change in his three years since purchasing the Royals, Picollo spoke with reporters on Saturday afternoon -- before Kansas City’s 6-5 loss to the Mariners at Kauffman Stadium -- about the direction of the organization with Picollo now heading baseball operations.

“As I shared with our staff yesterday, our fans are going to remember those flags up there in ‘14 and ’15,” Picollo said of the club’s World Series appearances and title in ‘15. “But our community knows a lot more about Dayton than just the flags that are flying in the stadium.

“He’s also a person that cares tremendously. He’s connected with so many people on a personal level. It’s remarkable.

“And the other thing I’ve shared with everybody is, ‘I’m not Dayton Moore.’ He understands that, and he respects that, and I don’t mean that in a demeaning way at all. We’re different people. And he’s comfortable with that. That’s why we’ve worked well together over the years.”

How do Picollo and Moore differ?
Sherman was clear this week that he viewed now as the time for change after a disappointing 2022 season. The Royals, who boast a young team flush with talent, reached 90 losses on Saturday with 10 games left to play. But promoting a Moore disciple in Picollo called into question what would actually change.

Those who know Picollo, though, say he’s different. He’s more open-minded about the modern game, particularly in analytics, and he surrounds himself with people of different areas of expertise. Sherman has a strong belief in Picollo, 52, particularly when urging the franchise to be more data-driven in roster building and decision making.

“A lot’s been made about our R&D department,” Picollo said. “I think we’ve got a really talented R&D department. I think we need to look for different ways to use them, particularly with the pitching. I say that more because we know how players want to learn. We need to be able to connect with players, whether they’re data-driven, whether they’re not data-driven.

“I shared that with all of our baseball operations department yesterday. But that’s the way the game is going. We understand that and will continue to push forward in that direction.”

What changes are coming?
The Royals will begin their end-of-season meetings next week in Detroit, where the team kicks off its final road trip of the season.

Picollo mentioned adding staff to the front office to help implement and understand pitching data, as well as building out the club’s performance science department, currently led by Austin Driggers.

And the coaching staff, including third-year manager Mike Matheny?

“I haven’t arrived at a decision on any of our coaches,” Picollo said. “What I’m processing right now is different than the way I was thinking about it, say, Monday. But we do have meetings in Detroit [next week], where the people that I feel like need to have a say in that decision will be around me.”

Asked how he feels Matheny and his staff have done this year, Picollo added, “I love Mike.”

“Mike is a competitor,” Picollo continued. “He cares about the players. He comes to work every day and wants to win. I think that’s a huge component. I know that sounds kind of funny, but Mike wants to win. He’s a pro. Really the last two days, he’s helped me digest this. So personally, I appreciate the way he goes about his business. And he’s a very well-respected person.”

Regarding pitching coach Cal Eldred, who has come under scrutiny with the staff’s struggles this year, Picollo applauded Eldred’s game-planning approach, something he’s overhauled since joining the organization in 2018.

“It’s been a tough year with the pitchers,” Picollo said. “The thing I can say with a lot of confidence is that Cal cares a ton. He spends a bunch of time just trying to work with guys, get them to understand what they’re doing, their pregame prep. … We all know what the struggles have been.

“We’re empathic to what he deals with every day. But again, that’s going to be part of our discussion next week.”

Royals interested in extending Witt
Rookie sensation Bobby Witt Jr. has checked nearly every box in his first season, slashing .255/.295/.440 with 20 home runs, 30 doubles, 28 stolen bases and 78 RBIs, which lead all rookies in MLB.

The shortstop isn’t the favorite to win the American League Rookie of the Year -- that would be Mariners outfielder Julio Rodríguez, who hit the IL this weekend with a lower back strain -- but Witt is exactly the kind of player the Royals would and should build around in the coming years.

Picollo was asked on Saturday about a potential extension for Witt, given that Rodríguez signed a massive deal with Seattle last month.

“It’s loosely been discussed,” Picollo said. “There’s got to be a lot of creativity in that. It’s something John Sherman has asked our department if it’s something we’d be interested in. And we are. It’s in a very, I would say, infantile stage. We have a lot of ways to go to get deeper into those discussions.”