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Promoting Picollo brings to mind Cardinals...and Tigers

Elevating from within the organization has worked for some teams—and been a disaster for others.

MLB: Minnesota Twins at Kansas City Royals Jay Biggerstaff-USA TODAY Sports

Kansas City, 2014 & 2015

Salvador Perez popped out to Pablo Sandoval, and my wife, a lifelong Royals fan, groaned in anger and said to me, “It’s going to be another 29 years, isn’t it?”

I shrugged. I didn’t think so. But I certainly understood her thinking that.

About a year later, on October 27, 2015: fireworks lit up the skies across the city and my wife, now severely pregnant, is making plans to go to the World Series parade. (She, thankfully, changed her mind.)

She’s so happy. “I could get used to this!”

Now, it’s been seven long seasons since, and I’m thinking about her words from 2014: It’s going to be another 29 years, isn’t it? Sure felt like that heading into last week. Like a lot of fans, my wife and I had lost faith in the Royals, wondering when our children would witness the glory that is meaningful October baseball in Kansas City.

Then that all changed.

St. Louis, 2007

Back in 2007, a civil war raged inside the St. Louis Cardinals front office between general manager Walt Jocketty and vice president of scouting and player development Jeff Luhnow.

The Cardinals had just won the 2006 World Series, but had done so despite barely even making it into the postseason with a record of just 83-79. In the post-season, they knocked off the favored New York Mets before defeating the heavily favored Detroit Tigers in the World Series, bringing St. Louis its first world championship since 1982.

But Jocketty and Luhnow butted heads, never appearing to mesh well. Jocketty favored dealing prospects to bolster the major league squad while Luhnow had the exact opposite vision. The 2007 Cardinals dropped to 78-84, still the team’s only losing record since 1999.

That October, majority owner Bill DeWitt fired Jocketty, and promoted to his role...John Mozeliak, the team’s scouting director. Mozeliak is still with the Cardinals albeit as the team’s President of Baseball Operations.

MLB: Chicago Cubs at St. Louis Cardinals Jeff Curry-USA TODAY Sports

Jocketty quickly landed with the Reds where, since 2016, he’s been Executor Advisor to the CEO.

Luhnow...well, we don’t talk about Luhnow, no, no, no.

It’s gone pretty well for the Cardinals, promoting from within the organization: under Mozeliak, the Cardinals have reached five pennants and two World Series, capturing the 2011 Fall Classic against the Rangers. After missing the playoffs from 2016-2018, the team has made the postseason three straight seasons with a fourth on the horizon.

Detroit, 2015

Much like Jocketty, Dave Dombrowski didn’t have the patience to let prospects marinate while leading the Detroit Tigers from 2002 to 2015. After two abysmal years to start his tenure, the Tigers gradually improved, winning the American League pennant in 2006 before falling to the Cardinals in the World Series.

Detroit then made the playoffs four years in a row between 2011 and 2014, reaching the pennant three times and getting back to the World Series in 2012 only to lose to the Giants.

Before the 2015 season had concluded, owner Mitch Ilitch dumped Trader Dave and replaced him with Al Avila, the team’s assistant general manager and vice president of baseball operations.

Dombrowski landed with the Red Sox as president of baseball operations. In his three full seasons there, the Red Sox reached the playoffs every year and won the 2018 World Series. He’s now in his second full season as the Phillies' president of baseball operations. Philadelphia is currently holding down the third and final Wild Card spot, 2.5 games up on the Brewers. It would be the first post-season appearance or Philadelphia since 2011.

Syndication: Detroit Free Press Kirthmon F. Dozier / USA TODAY NETWORK

As far as Avila in Detroit? Well, that didn’t go so great. The Tigers recently fired him after the team posted just one winning season (86-75 in 2016) during his tenure. The bottom dropped out in 2019 as the Tigers, after consecutive 98-loss seasons, dropped 114 games, finishing a whopping 53.5 games out of first place.

After improving to 77-85 last season, and with an infusion of talent reaching Detroit in the likes of Spencer Torkelson and Riley Greene, plus free-agent acquisitions Javier Baez and Eduardo Rodriguez, Detroit was expected to compete in 2022.

Instead, they currently sit in last place in the American League Central with a 57-92 record, fourth-worst in all of baseball.

They recently hired San Francisco Giants general manager Scott Harris as their new president of baseball operations.

Kansas City, 2022

When the Royals parted ways with Dayton Moore on Wednesday, something I never expected to actually happen, I felt a rush of excitement. Moore will be forever remembered in Kansas City—and all of baseball—for rebuilding a once proud franchise that had seemingly reached rock bottom before his arrival. Fans will not—or, at least, should not—forget how he turned a moribund group of losers into world champions.

Still, with a new ownership group, it felt like time. Well, it felt like past time, but the decision to move on is correct.

But the decision to promote his top lieutenant, general manager J.J. Picollo, to his vacated role?

Meh. That felt incredibly less inspiring. That really dampened the good vibes. Instead of the franchise wiping the slate clean, it felt more like rearranging the deck chairs on the Titanic.

The ship’s still gonna sink, people. It’s just going to look different. Same result, different optics.

Now, I’ll admit, Detroit’s recent misadventures had a lot to do with me feeling that way. Recency bias and all that jazz. Plus, Detroit’s in the same division, and the rebuilding efforts mostly started at the same time. Much like the Royals getting passed in the league by the Mariners and Orioles, the Tigers got passed by the Mariners, Orioles, and the Royals.

And also: hiring someone away from another team is just more exciting.

But it doesn’t always work out that way. Sometimes, promoting from within works out, and it works out splendidly. The St. Louis Cardinals are just one example. Another example but from a different sport plays in the same complex as the Royals: the Chiefs are in much better shape under Brett Veach than John Dorsey.

Don’t forget this, either: John Sherman didn’t make all of his money by making the wrong decisions. He had a great press conference Wednesday, and his words give me hope, and should give all Royals fans hope. He’s tired of losing, tired of picking high in the draft. Words I love to hear spoken by the owner of my favorite team.

Maybe, like Mozeliak, Picollo works out.

Maybe, like Avila, Picollo doesn’t work out.

There’s precedent for both scenarios.

But here’s how I feel about it: October baseball in Kansas City seems a heck of a lot closer now than it did last Wednesday morning.


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