Why J.J. Picollo is 'the right person' to lead Royals

September 22nd, 2022

KANSAS CITY -- When Royals chairman and CEO John Sherman dismissed president of baseball operations Dayton Moore on Wednesday, it was clear Sherman appreciated and respected Moore for everything he’s done in Kansas City for the last 16 years.

It was also clear that change was needed. And now, the baseball operations department is firmly in general manager J.J. Picollo’s hands, adding executive vice president to his title.

“This is what his career has prepared him to do,” Sherman said. “The objective of the team is no different. This is a results-oriented business. The objective is to return to form, to compete for a championship on behalf of our great fans, to be playing meaningful baseball this time of year.”

Picollo has worked with and for Moore for decades, from their days at George Mason University to the Braves’ scouting department and then to Kansas City. Picollo has had a variety of titles as Moore’s assistant general manager, including with the scouting and player development department, before being elevated to general manager last year.

That promotion was a move Sherman made -- and one he said Wednesday he didn’t regret -- to involve Picollo more in the day-to-day operations of the big league club, while Moore oversaw the organization more broadly.

Moore still had the final say in all decisions, but the work Picollo did this year gave Sherman the confidence to merge the two jobs back into one role.

The Royals have several assistant GMs that could have been promoted -- and who have received interest from other teams -- but Sherman believes Picollo, who also received a restructured contract that added years, is the right person for helping the Royals meet their future expectations.

“This job, from my perspective, is all about evaluating, selecting and developing talent, and getting the most out of that talent,” Sherman said. “... That’s kind of the wheelhouse of J.J.’s career. You have to be a leader, you have to be able to put a team together, delegate and define roles and responsibilities, which he’s done and has proven his ability to do that. Rather than say what changes I want, I really want J.J. to tell me what changes he wants.”

Even though the two have worked together and operated under the same values, Picollo is different from Moore in leadership style and how he views the game.

Now is his chance to put his stamp on a Royals organization that fell short of expectations in 2022.

“They are both talented baseball people,” Sherman said. “Dayton was the right guy at the right time in 2006, but I believe J.J. is the right person this time. They’re different leaders. Let’s let J.J. go to work, but I think he’s ready. They have two different styles.

“I anticipate that he will do some things differently than what would have been done had we not made the change. Just a fresh lens.”

With 13 games left after Wednesday’s contest against the Twins, Sherman said he wanted to make the change now rather than at the end of the season so Picollo could begin making offseason plans.

Sherman also signaled many times Wednesday that more changes would be coming, and sources have indicated to MLB.com that the Royals are likely to make personnel changes at the end of the season.

Whether that involves manager Mike Matheny remains to be seen. Hired in 2018 as a special advisor to Moore, Matheny took over as manager after Ned Yost retired in 2019. The Royals entered Wednesday 159-211 under Matheny, including the shortened 2020 season, and they picked up his 2023 option in Spring Training.

Sherman was non-committal on Matheny’s future Wednesday.

“That’s J.J.’s job, to evaluate that,” Sherman said. “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.”

Picollo declined to be interviewed Wednesday through the Royals communications staff, although he appeared on the team’s pregame radio show. He will likely speak with reporters later this week. Matheny deflected questions about changes and uncertainty looming over the Royals’ final 13 games of 2022.

“There are changes inevitable in the game,” Matheny said. “But it’s not something you should dwell on because it’s something out of your control. What we do control is how we prepare, how we come out here and compete.”

There will be other differences seen because of Picollo’s leadership. Sherman emphasized his desire to see changes within pitching development, similar to the transformation the Royals went through on the hitting side after 2019 -- which was spearheaded by Picollo and hitting coordinators Alec Zumwalt and Drew Saylor.

And Sherman also mentioned the organization’s approach to data as something that might change, a nod to the type of owner he is and the type of GM he wants Picollo to be.

“We have a top-notch analytic group led by Dr. Daniel Mack,” Sherman said. “I think sometimes, perhaps, that the data is not as prominent as it should be in this organization. I’ve always thought that the traditional background and our science people should learn from each other, but I also think that has to be more prominent, and we have to make more data-driven decisions.”

Following up, Sherman emphasized that the Royals have the information they want and need, but they haven’t been implementing it in ways he thinks would be most beneficial. That has caused frustration from the owner, to some in the front office, to players.

“We have the data. That is not a question,” Sherman said. “It’s really using it in the proper way and making it prominent when you have decisions about people and systems and other things.”