Royals in 'pretty thorough' search for pitching coach

November 9th, 2022

LAS VEGAS -- Almost immediately after Matt Quatraro was hired as the Royals’ manager last week, he and the front office turned their attention to pitching coach candidates, treating lists for the hire as almost equally important to bringing Quatraro into the fold as manager.

A week later, the Royals have built a list of candidates and plan to begin interviews next week to find a replacement for Cal Eldred, who was dismissed at the end of the season alongside manager Mike Matheny, executive vice president and general manager J.J. Picollo told at the GM Meetings in Las Vegas on Tuesday.

The Royals have asked permission to interview candidates from other teams during meetings over the last two days.

“The search is pretty thorough right now,” Picollo said. “It’s very similar to what we did with the managerial position. We know what we want in that position. Now, it’s finding guys who have that background. And the compatibility piece comes into play. Who do we know we can work with that has that working knowledge we’re looking for? We’ll find that out in the interviews next week.”

Quatraro is also working on filling out the rest of his staff. That includes bench coach, third-base coach, bullpen coach and other roles, and not all will be filled internally.

Pitching is a priority for the Royals this offseason, both in coaching personnel and the roster. The new pitching coach will take over a staff that struggled in 2022, but one that is young with plenty of potential. Royals pitchers finished last season ranked at or near the bottom of the Majors in ERA (4.70, ranked 27th in baseball), walks (590, 29th), WHIP (1.47, 30th), strikeouts per nine innings (7.57, 28th) and walks per nine innings (3.74, 29th).

The hope is that a new voice leading the Royals’ pitching department will help the club’s young pitchers have a more successful transition from the Minor Leagues to the Majors.

“We have to figure out what helps each guy,” Picollo said. “And every guy has different things to work on. The new pitching coach, manager and the pitching department we’ll put together, that will be in their lane to have every one of them take the next step.

“We’re more analytical than people think. But I think what we need to do is put it into place more often. A lot of it comes down to the coaches and how the coaches use data. How do they turn that into development? How do you see actionable change? How do you communicate well to get change and see change, to foster change? That’s where pitchers can be utilized and more productive in a different way.”

The Royals intend to add at least two starters through free agency or the trade market this offseason, as well as high-leverage relievers and pitchers they can use as depth. While there might not be a pitching coach in place for roster moves that must happen next week -- the deadline to protect players ahead of the Rule 5 Draft is next Tuesday, and the deadline to tender contracts is Nov. 18 -- the Royals would like input from their new pitching coach on free-agent or trade targets.

“As far as moving forward, roster management and pitchers in other organizations that we should target, we’d like to get that feedback,” Picollo said. “That’s part of what we want out of that position, which is a little different than how we’ve worked in the past.”

The interest in resigning , the Royals’ lone free agent after the 2022 season, remains high, and the Royals are optimistic that the interest is mutual for the 39-year-old veteran who posted a 3.68 ERA across 26 starts last season.

“We enjoyed having him,” Picollo said. “He was a leader for us this year. I think the impact he had on our pitchers and team was probably understated all year. How meticulous he is in how he works, his willingness to make adjustments and changes, come up with new pitches, he’s got a lot of confidence to do those things. We’re hopeful he’s as interested as we are, and I feel like he is, and now it’s a matter of trying to work it out.”