KANSAS CITY -- When Royals owner John Sherman promoted executive vice president of baseball operations and general manager J.J. Picollo on Sept. 21, he tasked Picollo with overseeing an organizational shift in baseball operations.
Rather quickly, changes were made. Hours after the Royals’ season ended Wednesday, Picollo dismissed manager Mike Matheny and pitching coach Cal Eldred. Those won’t be the only changes the Royals see this offseason, and Picollo’s most significant work is yet to come, as the Royals fix issues below the Major League level to help them with future success.
But that’s not to say the managerial hire isn’t important, especially with the youth of the Royals clubhouse. The core that the Royals graduated to the Majors this year is the core they hope to win with in the coming years.
The same goes for the pitching coach, who will work with and develop the young pitchers who have graduated to Kansas City in the past few years.
“Hearing from our candidates will give us a better idea of where they think we are and maybe can help us set loose expectations,” Picollo said. “But I think we just need to focus on everybody reaching their ceiling of what they can do. … The focus from our manager and pitching coach needs to be a little more process-oriented.
“And I’m going to make a conscious effort to try to not talk about winning as much. What do we need to do to win? That’s where these hires are very important.”
So what will Picollo look for in a new manager? The way that person handles a game will be important, yes, but in Picollo’s eyes, there are other important criteria.
“It’s communication,” Picollo said. “It’s really knowing the heartbeat of the player, knowing what’s going on, not only on the field, but anything that might be going on off the field. Communication and an openness to where players feel comfortable. … [In-game management] has a place, and there are results that are affected by that. But having guys enjoying playing a game, knowing coaches have their back and there’s a trust there is a big factor in a player becoming who he can become.”
Sherman emphasized his desire to see more data-driven decisions throughout the organization, so that’s likely a criteria Picollo will be looking for in a new manager. A collaborative mindset will be important, as Picollo’s organizational vision includes using resources from several of the Royals’ different departments to help with preparation. The Royals continue to expand their performance science, research development and behavioral science departments.
“This new manager is going to have to recognize that, appreciate it and figure out a way to put it all in play, pull it all together,” Picollo said. “That’s why it’s going to take some time to find the right person.”
Picollo noted Thursday that the Royals’ initial list of candidates is lengthy already, and it will be narrowed down as they set specific criteria and garner interest for what should be an attractive job considering the Royals’ young talent.
There are two internal candidates in bench coach Pedro Grifol, who will draw interest for other managerial openings across baseball this offseason, and third base coach Vance Wilson, who has managerial experience in the Minors.
But the Royals have been open with both Grifol and Wilson that a desire to hire internally is not set in stone.
“We’re going to cast a wide net, narrow it down, and as we build out what we think are the most important ingredients to being a manager for the Kansas City Royals, I couldn’t tell you which organization it’s going to come from,” Picollo said. “That’s why this is, in some ways, exciting right now.”