Ned Yost has managed more games than anyone else in Royals history, won more pennants than anyone in Royals history, and has a championship ring to show for it. He has led the Royals since 2010, only three current managers (Mike Scioscia, Joe Girardi, Bruce Bochy) have been at their jobs longer. Despite calls for him to be fired as recently as 2014, Ned has cemented his legacy in Royals history and will likely get to leave on his own terms.
But when will that be? Yost is 62 now, not terribly old for a manager, but certainly old enough to start thinking about retirement. Sam Mellinger of the Kansas City Star recently visited Yost at his ranch in Georgia, and hinted that Yost could be near the end of the line with the Royals.
Ned will not admit to even thinking about retirement. His contract goes through 2018, and he says he’ll want to keep working as long as it’s still fun. But you don’t have to stretch the imagination much to see 2017 as his last year in uniform.
On The Border Patrol on 810 WHB, Mellinger was even more explicit.
"I believe that 2017 is going to be his last year. Its just the way he talks about that group that’s going to be free agents."
Ned has been through rebuilding processes before in Milwaukee and Kansas City, and at his age, may not want to go through that experience again.
It may be a bit premature at this point, but we can at least discuss who might succeed Ned Yost as Royals skipper. Who are the prime candidates to take over the Royals?
Current job: Royals bench coach
Wakamatsu has managerial experience, leading the Seattle Mariners for a season and a half, winning 85 games before getting fired after a 42-70 start in his second season. Wakamatsu has been a candidate for managerial jobs in Tampa Bay, Arizona, and Colorado in recent years.
The 53-year old had a tumultuous tenure in Seattle, which is why he was dismissed so quickly after a successful season. The rumors are that his management of the Mariners clubhouse was poor, with the embarrassing incident of Ken Griffey Jr. reportedly falling asleep in the clubhouse during a game and being unavailable to pinch hit. His communication with other players was reportedly also poor.
But the miscommunication extended beyond the Griffey situation. Wakamatsu didn't explain roles very well this season, and that's been an issue. The front office and the coaching staff reportedly have been at odds all season. It's been a season of bad reception and dropped calls. As a result, Wakamatsu lost the players' trust and the front office's support. In the end, he lost his job, too.
It is possible Wakamatsu learned from his first failed tenure, much like Ned Yost became a better manager after his embarrassing firing in Milwaukee. Being around Ned Yost, cited for being an outstanding leader and communicator among his players, may have rubbed off on Wakamatsu.
As a tactician, Wakamatsu was criticized for being old school. His 2009 Mariners led the league in sacrifice hits, but were below-average in stolen base attempts. He has said he likes to be "aggressive" on the basepaths, but it depends on personnel.
I think that you can push a club to what its ability is, but beyond that, you're going to run into trouble, so I think that our vision, our game plan, is to get faster and more athletic.
Seattle was dead-last in the runs scored that year, which is attributable to poor talent, but it doesn’t help that Franklin Gutierrez, an above-average hitter, had 13 sacrifice hits. His 2009 Mariners led the league in ERA, and his relievers had the fewest appearances in the league. His pitched relievers on zero days rest 72 times, sixth-fewest in the league.
More recently, Wakamatsu has said he is open to analytics, singing the praises of Statcast recently.
"We're always mining for new information. This technology is fascinating, especially if it provides us information we can utilize.....The bottom line is we're in an age where there is all kinds of data coming in. The key is being able to use it to win games, not just to sit around and admire it."
Current job: Royals hitting coach
Like Wakamatsu, Dale Sveum has managerial experience, taking over for Ned Yost after his firing in Milwaukee in 2008 for two weeks and into the post-season, and in a short stint with the Chicago Cubs from 2012-2013. The Cubs were rebuilding in those days, so Sveum’s .392 winning percentage with them should probably be taken with a grain of salt. Sveum was pretty much hired by the Cubs to be fired, serving as a sacrificial lamb while the team took their lumps building what would eventually be a World Champion.
Sveum has worn a number of hats in his coaching career. He been a minor league manager in the Pirates organization, served as third base coach for the 2004 World Champion Red Sox, served as bench coach in Milwaukee before taking briefly as manager when Yost was fired, before going back to hitting coach when the Brewers hired Ken Macha.
Sveum has been the Royals hitting coach since 2014, moving over from third base coach after the re-assignment of Pedro Grifol. The Royals offense did improve in 2015, but Sveum is hardly some hitting guru.
Sveum dislikes discussing mechanics. He preaches the importance of head positioning during swings. He emphasizes winning "the 3-2 battle" in full counts, he said. He has opened the minds of his hitters to the gospel of video study, a practice most of the group now embrace. He translates the team’s scouting reports into usual chunks for his players.
Sveum seems like a "baseball guy" who has probably picked up a lot of experience in his numerous stops, working with men like Terry Francona, Ned Yost, and Ken Macha. He has been cited for running a good clubhouse but making questionable lineup and bullpen decisions, not unlike his current boss Ned Yost. A study at FiveThirtyEight showed Sveum would have been one of the worst managers in baseball in bullpen usage had he qualified for their study. In fairness, he had a low level of talent in Chicago.
"It seems to me that some baseball coaches reach a certain level of ability and when asked to go beyond that, can't handle an expanded role. Sveum seems to be one of those guys -- well-suited to be a hitting coach, but not having what it takes to be a successful manager."
-Al Yellon, Bleed Cubbie Blue
Current job: Royals special assignment coach
Whoa, rewind yourself! Could Jason Kendall take over as manager despite absolutely no managerial or coaching experience? There has been a trend lately to take former players with no coaching experience and put them in charge - Mike Matheny, Robin Ventura, Walt Weiss, and Brad Ausmus are some examples. Kendall is currently a special assignment coach, working odd jobs for the organization.
Jason Kendall is definitely a throwback, which is why he titled his book "Throwback." Through his writings with Kansas City Star columnist Lee Judge, we can get a glimpse into some of his managerial philosophies.
Kendall is not a fan of some of the newer developments in the game of baseball.
"First of all, I think pitch counts are bullshit."
He doesn’t believe much in lefty/righty platoon splits, preferring instead individual matchup splits, which can be notoriously unreliable due to small sample sizes. He says the #2 hitter should be able to get on base, but also handle the bat and bunt.
However, not all of his philosophies are from the 20th century. Kendall stresses being patient at the plate - he had a solid 8% walk rate in his career with a .366 on-base percentage. He thinks the leadoff hitters should be a guy that can get on base. He says teams should play for the big inning at times, but also be prepared to play for one run depending on the pitcher on the mound. He thinks the bunt can be a weapon, but only in certain circumstances, particularly late in the game, and not by your best hitters.
"I respect Billy Beane, his philosophy is great: you get on base, you score - absolutely, that’s common sense. But pitching is the name of the game."
Kendall believes in getting on players that are out of line or disruptive, but also delegating decision-making to players at times. He believes very much in the unwritten rules of the game, and in playing hard-nosed, aggressive baseball. Expect him to get a serious look.
He's an ass kicker, has the respect of (most) players, and is absolutely hooked on baseball. There are some rough edges there to smooth, but if he wants to manage -- and Lee would know this much better than I -- he'd be very good.
Current job: Special Assistant to the President of Baseball Operations, Los Angeles Dodgers and ESPN Analyst
I think Ibanez is the only candidate not currently employed by the Royals who will get a serious look. Ibanez interviewed for the Rays managerial job after the 2014 season, but withdrew his name from consideration citing "family concerns" and took a job with Fox Sports as an analyst. Since then, he has taken his analysis to ESPN, but also serves as a special assistant to Andrew Friedman with the Dodgers.
Ibanez has no coaching or managerial experience. He does have a 19-year Major League playing career, including four with the Royals, the last of which came in 2014, when they won the pennant. He was cited for being a strong leader in that clubhouse, and was credited with giving the mid-season speech that rallied the team to their run to the post-season.
That clubhouse presence and gravitas would be Ibanez's strongest skill as a skipper. Less known is how he would fare as a strategist. Teammates cite Ibanez as being very cerebral, but he has not said too much about what kind of managerial philosophies he prefers. There may also be a learning curve for a first-time manager that could cause some bumpy roads initially.
"Ibanez would make the best choice, I think, both in familiarity and skill set. He played for five different teams and has friends and admirers throughout the game, so if he wants to manage, he won't lack for options."
Current Job: Jackson County Executive
White has long expressed his desire to be the Royals skipper, but the club passed him over twice, then dismissed him from his gig as an analyst for Fox Sports Kansas City after he made critical comments. His firing angered Royals fans and caused a rift between the organization that left White bitter enough to refuse invitations back during the last two post-season runs.
Frank has long been an advocate of the kind of old school style of play that won him a championship in 1985. He stresses fundamentals, being aggressive on the bases, using productive outs, and relying on pitching and defense. In his book One Man's Dream: My Town, My Team, My Time he states his distaste for relievers roles, saying he prefers to leave a pitcher in if he is performing well.
White has has settled into a career in politics, winning election as Jackson County Executive in 2016. It seems like a longshot at this point that he and the club would be able to bury the hatchet and work together.
Other internal candidates:
Rusty Kuntz is one of the most well-respected coaches in the game, but he has been looking to retire the last few seasons and would likely call it a career once Ned is done. Brian Poldberg has been a longtime manager in the Royals organization, but I would not expect him to make the jump from AAA to the big leagues as a skipper. Mike Jirschele is another loyal organization man who has filled a number of different roles with the club, including minor league manager, but he is not likely to be a serious candidate. Vance Wilson, the manager of the AA Northwest Arkansas Naturals, is a bit of a rising star in the organization. Don't look for George Brett to step down from his front office role to get back in uniform as Royals manager.
Other external candidates:
The Royals nearly hired Ron Gardenhire before he won 1,068 games and six division titles with the Twins. Larry Bowa has been considered for the Royals managerial job before and would bring the hard-nosed, old school attitude, but at age 71 may not be the manager for a youth movement. Dave Martinez is considered one of the top managerial candidates in baseball having worked under Joe Maddon for years. Bobby Kelly, Ron Wotus, and Phil Nevin are all Major League coaches who have recently received serious consideration to manage.