On May 31, 2006, then-Royals owner David Glass introduced the man he hoped would lead his franchise of the cellar of baseball, a young executive from the Braves named Dayton Moore, a man with local ties who had at one time watched the Royals win the 1985 World Series from a view on I-70. Moore found the situation with the Royals worse than he imagined, but asked fans to “trust the process.” It took seven years, longer than expected, but it culminated with two of the most amazing post-season runs in recent baseball history, resulting in two pennants and a World Championship.
Flags fly forever, but fortunes change quickly in baseball. Pitchers lose zip on their fastball. Hitters find they can’t catch up with the high heat anymore. Executives can’t tap into the same magic that brought a team and a city together in glorious jubilation.
On Wednesday afternoon, new Royals owner John Sherman showed us what kind of owner he will be by firing Moore after sixteen years as the head of the organization. It would have been easy for Sherman to keep Moore - he has a ring, respect around the game of baseball, a mountain of goodwill for his work in the Kansas City community. But Sherman showed he will not be a captive of nostalgia or satisfied with simply having an organization of good people that try their best.
“The objective is to return to form, to compete for a championship on behalf of our great fans, to be playing meaningful baseball at this time of year. Our objective that can compete consistently and on a sustainable basis.”
In his comments to reporters, John Sherman made it clear there will be no excuses for not fielding a contending team. He pointed to the successes of other small-market teams in developing players - the Brewers, the Rays, the Athletics, and the organization he was once a part of, the Guardians. While he did downplay free agency as a method for small-market teams to build a roster, he raised expectations for player development and stressed building a consistent winner.
“I’m not only tired of losing, I’m tired of picking high in the draft....you don’t have to have one of the top five picks to build your team.”
Leading that effort will be J.J. Picollo, who has worked hand-in-hand with Dayton Moore for decades. That will raise questions about whether or not his leadership can turn the Royals in a different direction than they were headed under Moore. Picollo began in scouting but more recently has spearheaded much of the effort to get the Royals up to speed in data and analytics. He frequently works with the head of research and development for the Royals, Daniel Mack, when he scouts players. As Sam McDowell at the Kansas City Star put it, “Convincing Picollo to implement data — or making it more prominent — in organizational decision-making will not be a chore. He’s among those at the front of this charge.”
Sherman also made it clear that the ability to implement data into decision-making was a driving force behind his decision. “I think sometimes perhaps the data is not as prominent as it should be in this organization,” he told reporters. “We have to make more data-driven decisions.”
The Royals have been trying to play catch up in the data revolution in baseball, but have continually found themselves behind the curve - detailed in part in a piece on pitching development in The Athletic this week. Picollo has been part of that organization behind the curve, but reading between the lines of Sherman’s statements, it seems that Dayton Moore’s leadership may have been the impediment to maximizing the use of all the data they were collecting.
“We have the data...it’s really about how you use it, and where is it in its prominence - when you’re going through draft preparations, when you’re going through an analysis with a trade counterparty....anecdotes are fine but I want to see what’s underneath those stories.”
Picollo also represents a chance for the Royals to be more “transactional”, something Moore talked about but resisted implementing. This summer, the Royals added 13 players in six trades, perhaps a sign of how Picollo plans to operate. Sherman indicated that this was an important element he wanted to see out of the organization.
“But it’s not just about player development. It’s also about your willingness to change your players. I don’t want to use the word ‘churn,’ because these are athletes. But I mean building an organization where you have excess talent that would allow you to go get more talent to fill needs.”
“I think on one hand it’s about development; on one hand it’s about data-driven decision-making; on one hand, it’s about being willing and trying to upgrade your team all the time.”
We haven’t heard much from Sherman since he took over the reins in the fall of 2019. Some of that may have been him getting his feet wet and taking a look around the joint, although a pandemic and a work stoppage also threw a wrench into things. But this week he made his mark on the organization, and signaled a plan to move the Royals into modern baseball. “Player development is something that’s changing, it’s changing quickly,” he said. Dayton Moore will be forever appreciated in this town for what he did. But the game has changed, and while we will see if J.J. Picollo is the right man for the job, owner John Sherman has made it clear the Royals need to change with it.
Did the Royals make the right move with their leadership?
No, should have kept Dayton Moore
No, should have hired a new GM, not J.J. Picollo