Welcome to this week’s Royals Beat newsletter. My name is Anne Rogers, and I’ll be delivering news and insight to your inboxes all season long.
A new era of the Royals began last week. On Wednesday, John Sherman made the most significant change in the organization to date as the Royals’ CEO and chairman by dismissing Dayton Moore as president of baseball operations -- and elevating general manager J.J. Picollo to lead baseball operations, adding executive vice president to his title.
“The week’s been different, for sure,” Picollo said this weekend. “Totally different than any week I’ve had professionally.”
It was a massive decision for Sherman, who has taken these last three years since purchasing the Royals -- which has included a pandemic-shortened season and an MLB owners’ lockout -- to learn everything about the franchise and its processes, from the business side to the baseball side.
It was also a revealing one, showing us who Sherman is and where he wants the franchise to go.
“The objective of the team is no different,” Sherman said. “This is a results-oriented business. The objective is to return to form, to compete for a championship on behalf of our great fans, to be playing meaningful baseball this time of year. Our objective is to build a team that competes and competes consistently on a sustainable basis. There is a gap right now of where we are and where we expect to be.”
Moore was the “right guy at the right time” for overhauling a mess of a franchise when he was hired in 2006, Sherman said, before adding that he believes Picollo is the right person now. But Picollo is now in the unique position of replacing his mentor, friend and longtime boss in Moore.
Changes, both in processes and personnel, will be made now that wouldn’t likely have happened if Moore was still in charge.
“We have to get significantly better,” Picollo said. “We feel it could have been a better year. … We have to acknowledge that there’s improvement that needs to be made on all parts, from the front office to the coaching staff to the players.”
The good news is, Picollo has been as entrenched in this organization as Moore was. And he’s earned the trust of the players, especially the young core the Royals are going to build around in the coming years. Moore was -- and will always be -- highly respected around the game and in his clubhouse for how he stood by and treated players.
“There’s a life outside of baseball, and Dayton truly cared about the person first and the player second,” Nicky Lopez said. “Not many people who are running an organization go about their business that way.”
At the same time, Lopez reiterated his affection toward Picollo, who was in the room with hitting coordinator Alec Zumwalt last spring when the Royals demoted Lopez to Triple-A to rework his swing, a change that sparked Lopez’s career-best 2021 season.
“And he was there in the Minor League cages with me, Zumie, Keoni [DeRenne] and [Mike] Tosar while I worked through stuff,” Lopez said. “We have a pretty good relationship, and that’s going to help. We all respect Dayton, and it’s not going to be a transition where we’re going from Dayton to someone else who we don’t know. We can talk to J.J. because he’s been there for us as we moved up the ranks. I think we’ve all had honest conversations with him about how we feel.”
In the fall of 2019, the Royals were transforming their hitting development program, a revamp desired by Moore and spearheaded by Picollo. He put Zumwalt in charge, a move Moore originally questioned. Zumwalt, whose background is in scouting, was on a path to become the Royals’ farm director. But Picollo thought Zumwalt’s background was better suited to help with the enormous task of better developing players, which the hitting side needed.
Within that revamp, Picollo adopted field coordinator duties as part of his job. He was in uniform and on the field with players, breaking down a barrier often seen in the game between those in the front office and those with the jerseys on.
“My role there was fun,” Picollo said. “I enjoyed it. The conversations were a little bit more real. It did allow me to get to know the players personally better than I would have if I were not in uniform. But again, part of being a good leader, you delegate. And that delegation all went to Alec Zumwalt and Paul Gibson and their efforts and staff. They did an unbelievable job during that time. So it was helpful. It allows me to go to players and have more open conversations now a couple years later.”
Picollo actually threw batting practice to some of the Royals’ 2019 draftees that fall. They called him "Sticks," because he wore No. 11, or at least that’s what Vinnie Pasquantino and Michael Massey said.
“We would joke around with him and Zumie, and some of the older guys who had been in the organization for a little bit, like [Logan] Porter and [Will] Hancock were like, ‘Do you guys realize how high up they are?’” Massey said. “And we’re like, ‘What are you talking about, it’s just J.J.’ So it was interesting, once you learn how high up they are, I thought it was actually pretty cool that we got to interact with them in that way.
“I’ve obviously never been in another organization, so I can’t compare. But what I’ve heard from others is that they don’t see the front office a lot. Not a lot of one-on-one relationships or communication. Here, we’ve got a lot of trust in J.J.”
Time will tell how different things will be under Picollo. This offseason, which begins Oct. 6 for the Royals, will offer a telling first look into the Picollo era. What’s clear right now is the players who have established themselves in Kansas City -- from Pasquantino and Massey, to Bobby Witt Jr. and MJ Melendez, to Brady Singer and Daniel Lynch -- are the young core the Royals would like to play meaningful baseball, to borrow Sherman’s phrase.
And belief in Picollo trickles down from the owner’s office to the clubhouse.
“We think highly of J.J.,” Lopez said. “It stings [without Moore]. But like John Sherman said, J.J. is ready for it. Like Dayton said, J.J. is ready for it. And I’m assuming he’s ready for it.”
Witt Jr.’s two-run double in the Royals’ 11-run sixth inning on Sunday gave him 80 RBIs this season with nine games to play. That leads all rookies in baseball this year, and it gives Witt the franchise record for most RBIs by a first-year player in Royals history. Who did he pass?
A.) Eric Hosmer
B.) Kevin Seitzer
C.) Carlos Beltrán
D.) Mark Quinn
2,666 CONSECUTIVE HOME GAMES: CONGRATS, CHUCK!
A lot has changed over 34 years, both within the Royals organization and in the world. And Chuck Hawke has pretty much seen it all. The Royals visiting clubhouse manager is retiring after this season, and Sunday was his final Royals home game -- his 2,666th consecutive game worked. He hasn’t missed a game since he started in 1989.
In between, he’s witnessed historic moments and memories he won’t forget. He was in the clubhouse when the Giants won the 2014 World Series at Kauffman Stadium. He helped out across the hall when the Royals won in ’15. The players he’s helped out and moments he saw include Nolan Ryan’s dominant years, Cal Ripken Jr.’s Iron Man streak and the Mark McGwire-Sammy Sosa home run chase of 1998.
“We’re there to help the players,” Hawke said. “If they need to send a Mother’s Day card out or set up a tee time or get a car after the game to get their family back, we’re trying our hardest to accommodate what they need. I think that’s the biggest thing. You respect their space. I’m not a player. They’re the ones that make this game, and you just try to be an asset for them.”
The Royals honored Hawke in a pregame ceremony on Sunday, and he threw out the first pitch. Included in that ceremony was the official renaming of the Royals’ visiting clubhouse at Kauffman Stadium to the Chuck Hawke Visiting Clubhouse. A plaque now hangs on the wall outside of the clubhouse commemorating Hawke and his “meticulous and consistent care.”
“It’s an honor,” Hawke said. “I didn’t expect this. You’re just the little guy in a big picture, but you try to respect the players, and fortunately, it’s been a great run.”
A.) Eric Hosmer
Hosmer had 78 RBIs in 2011 as a first-year player. Entering Tuesday, Witt ranks third in franchise history for RBIs by a rookie; Seitzer had 83 in 1987 and Beltrán had 108 in ’99 (remember that both Seitzer and Beltrán had rookie status during their second year in the Majors).
FORWARDED FROM A FRIEND? SUBSCRIBE NOW
To subscribe to Royals Beat, visit this page and mark "Royals Beat" from our newsletter list. Make sure you're following the Royals or that they're checked as your favorite team.