Royals manager Ned Yost has already announced he plans to return for the 2018 season, and despite signs that the team will go in a younger direction, Yost seems ready for a rebuild.
“It's going to be easier for me to transition some of these younger players than anyone else...Am I going to see this thing through? No. But I want to get a firm footing and firm foundation on the ground so someone else ... in two years, whatever it is ...[can step in] and get back to where we feel we can compete again. Then, boom. It'll just be easier for me to transition the young guys."
Yost is 62 years old, young enough to continue for a few more seasons, but many feel that he will want to ride off into the Georgia sunset with hunting buddy Jeff Foxworthy before too long. Yost recently addressed the succession plan in Kansas City, saying that his successor will come from within the organization.
“We feel like we’ve got the right people to take over for me. We’re not bringing someone in.”
The recent shakeup on the coaching staff may give an indication on who those “right people” might be. The Royals recently parted ways with bench coach Don Wakamatsu, pitching coach Dave Eiland, bullpen coach Doug Henry, and assistant hitting coach Brian Buchanan. According to FanRag reporter Jon Heyman, Dale Sveum will relinquish hitting coach duties and become bench coach.
Does that mean Dale Sveum is the future Royals manager? Sveum has replaced Yost as skipper before. In September of 2008, when the Brewers were headed for a post-season spot, they shocked the baseball world by firing Yost and replacing him with then-bench coach Dale Sveum. Under Sveum, the Brewers won 7 of their last 12 games, but were bounced by the Phillies in four games of the National League Division Series.
Sveum was replaced by a permanent manager the following season, but did get his own chance to be a full-time skipper in 2012 when he was tabbed to lead the Cubs. The fact he was hired by Theo Epstein - perhaps the greatest general manager of this era - is a good sign. The move was praised as being part of the “Moneyball” pattern at the time. But Sveum seemed more of a throwback, emphasizing accountability and hustle, defense and fundamentals.
The Dale Sveum era in Chicago was marked by losses, lots and lots of losses. The franchise was in transition with a roster was populated by young players like Anthony Rizzo, Starlin Castro, and Jeff Samardzija, but also a lot of guys that probably didn’t belong in the big leagues. Sveum grew frustrated with the lack of progress from some of his young players during the rebuild. His clubs lost over 60% of his games in Chicago, winning 61 games his first year, and improving to 66 wins the following year before he was dismissed. The lack of progress from his young players was cited as a reason for his departure.
Two years later, the Cubs were in the playoffs, a 97-win team with at least some of the players that had developed under Sveum. Was he to blame for the losing? Was he to blame for the slow development of the young players? Or was he just the fall guy for a rebuild?
In Kansas City, Sveum has served as third base coach before being reassigned to hitting coach midway through his first season in Kansas City after the team slumped to a poor start in 2014. The offense did improve a bit under his tutelage, finishing ninth in runs scored, although we don’t know much impact he had directly. The Royals improved to sixth in runs scored in 2015 before slumping back to finishing in the bottom three clubs in runs scored in both 2016 and 2017. The Royals also set a franchise record for home runs this year, although there has been a league-wide home run spike.
Under Sveum, we saw Mike Moustakas completely re-invent himself to spray the ball to all fields in 2015, then re-invent himself again this year as a pull hitter, enjoying his best power season ever. Eric Hosmer enjoyed his best two career seasons in 2015 and 2017 under Sveum. Salvador Perez’s power has gone up each year. Whit Merrifield has exploded as a terrific hitter despite lackluster minor league numbers. On the other hand, Sveum has been unable to save Alex Gordon’s floundering career, and the overall offensive approach by the club has remained overly aggressive and not productive.
The Royals may have some other in-house candidates to consider for their managerial job when Ned Yost is ready to go. Jason Kendall has been a special assignment coach that many feel could be a candidate. Pedro Grifol is so well thought of that the Tigers had him on their initial list of candidates for their open managerial position. Third base coach Mike Jirschele has been a loyal organizational soldier for years, with many years of managerial experience in the minors. Northwest Arkansas manager Vance Wilson is seen as a rising star in the system.
But Dale Sveum is the one with previous managing experience, who has worked with Ned Yost for seven seasons in both Milwaukee and Kansas City. His assignment to bench coach seems to be a sign that he will once again be manager someday. Maybe it won’t be in a year, maybe it won’t be in two years, but someday.
By that point, will the Royals want more of the same? Or will it be time for a clean break? Consistency can be a good thing, but sometimes the same message over several years can grow stale or outdated.
We shall see. For now, it doesn’t appear that Ned Yost is going anywhere. And for that matter, it doesn’t look like the Royals are going anywhere for the next year or two. Perhaps the question of who is managing the club will be the least of our concerns.