And then there were seven. Seven! That’s how many managerial openings remain after the inevitable hiring of Joe Maddon by the Angels. I swear, that coupling was so obviously happening that when it actually went down, it seemed like no one noticed. Maddon got hired by the Angels? OK.
The World Series starts this week and the managerial musical chairs will come to a halt.
Late last week the online gambling site BetOnline updated their odds for who would fill the remaining managerial openings. The Royals list was about what you would expect.
Let’s start at the bottom and work our way up. (It’s more interesting that way. Trust me.) Buck Showalter, Mike Scioscia and Joe Girardi are all Known Managerial Commodities™ and there is absolutely no way they are coming to Kansas City. Not with the current state of the franchise with the sale and the rebuild and all that. No way.
John Gibbons is interesting in that he has ties to the Royals organization as a former bench coach for Ned Yost. Gibbons has managed two stints in Toronto and owns an almost .500 record over nearly 1,600 games. His most successful seasons came in 2015 when the Jays finished first in the AL East before succumbing to the Royals in the ALCS and in 2016 when they grabbed the first Wild Card and again advanced to the LCS. He’s reportedly looking to manage again so it’s kind of surprising his odds are so low at this point. I mean at least lower than the group of three that has no chance of skippering the Royals.
Tony Pena Jr. is an unexpected candidate but perhaps shouldn’t be given his work as manager of the Surprise Royals in the Arizona League. The Rookie Royals finished 2019 with a 33-23 record which was tied with the Rangers and the Dodgers for best in the Western Division, but the team failed to win the division in either half so missed out on the playoffs. Still, a successful season. It was his second year in charge of the team. He also joined the major league club as a coach in September. Perhaps with an eye to the near future?
It’s doubtful he’s a serious candidate this time around. It’s difficult to justify hiring someone with that thin of a resume for a team in such a state of flux. And that’s not a criticism of Pena Jr. It’s just fact. He doesn’t have a ton of experience on the bench at any level. He could certainly use a little more seasoning. While he’s a long shot for the current managerial opening, it wouldn’t be surprising if Pena Jr. gets tabbed to work on the new staff. If the Royals are bullish about his prospects as a future MLB leader, that’s a move that makes a lot of sense.
Fun fact: Pena holds the Royals record for most consecutive games without an unintentional walk at 65, covering 244 plate appearances. Impressive.
That brings us to the four with the shortest odds, all of them long thought to be in the mix when Yost announced he had decided to hang up the managerial spikes, all of them internal candidates. Dale Sveum has managerial experience, succeeding Yost in Milwaukee when the now former Royals manager was fired in the heat of a pennant race. Sveum also managed two seasons for the Cubs as the first hire by Theo Epstein in Chicago. When Sveum was fired after a pair of last place finished, his downfall was thought to be the lack of development of several players thought to be cornertstones of the next contending team.
Sveum joined the Royals in 2013, just days after being let go by the Cubs. He’s worked as the Royals third base coach, hitting coach and was the bench coach for Yost the last two seasons.
Vance Wilson has paid his organizational dues by managing in Class-A for three years before moving to Double-A Northwest Arkansas for four more. He’s been in Kansas City for two seasons as the Royals bullpen coach. Baseball is full of grinders like Wilson who clearly has something to give to the next generation of talent. His resume includes back-to-back Texas League North Division titles in 2015 and 2016. Those clubs included current Royals such as Hunter Dozier, Adalberto Mondesi, Ryan O’Hearn, Jakob Junis, Erik Skoglund and Bubba Starling.
Talking about paying your dues, we’ve come to the second most favorable odds on the list in Pedro Grifol. The Miami native has been the Royals’ quality control and catching coach the last couple of seasons. He’s seen as the conduit between the analytics department and the on-field staff, which is an enormous role in the current environment. Amazed at some of the out-of-the-box things the Royals have done (i.e. the shifts) the last couple of years? Credit Grifol for convincing the players and coaches to adapt. He also deserves some of the credit for Jorge Soler’s breakout 2019. Grifol spent 13 years in the Mariners organization before joining the Royals in 2013.
The bilingual Grifol has interviewed for the Giants opening. He name surfaced in managerial openings in Detroit in 2017 and Baltimore in 2018. He is the current Hot Candidate™ on the Royals’ list. (Not counting the aforementioned Showalter, Scioscia and Girardi.)
And there’s current favorite Mike Matheny. My opinion of Matheny as a managerial candidate hasn’t changed. Odds be damned.
Matheny’s name popped up in relation to the Mets and the Padres managerial openings. Don’t believe it. The Mets are on their second interviews of potential candidates and the Padres have reportedly settled on a final two. Matheny didn’t rate an interview for either opening.
Perhaps the most interesting wrinkle in this managerial search can be found on the MLB Trade Rumors Managerial Tracker. On that page, they list the known and rumored candidates and those who have interviewed for positions. Of the seven teams with openings remaining, the Royals are the only one that has yet to conduct an interview. At least one we know about.
This is undoubtedly due to the current ownership situation and the pending approval of the sale of the team to businessman John Sherman. Dayton Moore said he wouldn’t hire a new skipper without the approval of ownership which, given the timing of everything going on, puts the Royals at a competitive disadvantage in relation to the other clubs with openings. However, the disadvantage isn’t so real if the Royals are focusing on internal candidates. And that’s exactly what it sounds like they’re doing.