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Well the worst-kept secret in baseball seems to be a reality now. According to MLB.com reporter Jeffrey Flanagan, Mike Matheny will become the 17th full-time manager of the Royals. (Update: The Royals have made it official).
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Here’s Dayton Moore’s statement on the Mike Matheny hiring:
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11:01 PM – Oct 31, 2019 · Kansas City, MO
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The former Cardinals manager had been serving as a special advisor with the Royals since last November. Mike Matheny won 591 games in six and a half seasons with the Cardinals, losing 474 for a .555 winning percentage. His teams won 88 or more games and reached the post-season in each of his first four seasons. He led the Cardiuals to the 2013 National League pennant, falling to the Boston Red Sox in the World Series, and his club won an MLB-best 100 games in 2015.
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His teams declined in his last three seasons, missing the playoffs all three years, and he was dismissed midway through the 2018 season with a 47-46 record. Matheny was criticized for clashes with players and a tense clubhouse, and things came to a head when an article at The Athletic detailed Matheny’s approval of veteran pitcher Bud Norris riding rookie pitcher Jordan Hicks hard, to the displeasure of the Cardinals front office. Matheny was dismissed a few days after that article was published.
When Ned Yost announced in September that he would retire as Kansas City Royals’ manager at the end of the 2019 season, former St. Louis Cardinals manager Mike Matheny became the obvious favorite to take over the reins in Kansas City. Matheny, 49, had spent the entire year with the organization, after coming on board last November as a special advisor to general manager Dayton Moore, re: player development.
On Thursday, a day after the 2019 season came to an emphatic end, the Royals announced the hiring of Matheny as their next manager.
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The Cardinals fired Matheny last July with a 47-46 record. Matheny became the first MLB manager to be fired mid-season while holding a winning record since the Milwaukee Brewers fired Yost in 2008. In seven seasons with the Cards, Matheny went 591-474, reached the playoffs four times and won the 2013 pennant, falling to the Boston Red Sox in the World Series. But under Matheny, the Cards’ winning percentage dropped each season after 2015 and when he was fired, they were on pace to miss the postseason for a third straight year (which eventually did happen) — something that St. Louis had not done since 1997-99. Matheny also spent 13 years as a big-league catcher for the Brewers, Blue Jays, Cardinals, and Giants, winning four Gold Gloves.
“Our entire organization is delighted to announce and celebrate the hiring of Mike Matheny,” Royals general manager Dayton Moore said in a press release. “Every department has had the pleasure to work and interact with him this past season. Through this interaction, it became very clear to our leadership team that Mike is the obvious person to lead our baseball team. Mike Matheny is a passionate leader with strong virtues, intelligence, and a relentless commitment to help players reach their full potential. We are looking forward to him and Kristin being a part of this very special city.”
Whit Merrifield and Jorge Soler are expected to be frequent names mentioned in trade rumors this offseason. Longtime starting catcher Salvador Perez missed the 2019 season after damage to the ulnar collateral ligament required Tommy John surgery. And, this past August, news broke that David Glass is nearing an agreement to sell the franchise to John Sherman, the vice president of the Cleveland franchise.
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The Royals finished the 2019 season 59-103 (minus-178 run differential), and are still a few years away from seeing their rebuild translate into wins. There’s still a lot of unknown for this franchise, which took home the World Series title just four seasons ago.
So what’s wrong with the Royals hiring Mike Matheny?
Matheny has been described as an old school coach whose philosophies on teaching youths on baseball are outlined in his “Matheny Manifesto.” He has emphasized fundamentals and his Cardinals teams did bunt more than average, but they did not steal many bases in his tenure. Cardinals fans have criticized many of his strategies, such as bullpen management and basing lineups on small sample sizes. Matheny ranked dead last among all active managers in Baseball Prospectus’ Reliever Management metric. He was resistant to analytics in St. Louis, although Jeffrey Flanagan reports he has been working to understand them more in his time in Kansas City.
The scoop on Mike Matheny from some Cardinals fans
The 49-year old Matheny is an Ohio native who attended the University of Michigan. He enjoyed a 13-year Major League career as a catcher with the Brewers, Blue Jays, Cardinals, and Giants, winning four Gold Gloves. He was hired by the Cardinals as manager despite no previous coaching experience but became the first manager ever to reach the playoffs in his first four seasons.
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Matheny’s wife Kristen played field hockey at Michigan and together they have five children. Mike’s son Tate, is an outfielder in the Boston Red Sox organization, his son Luke plays baseball at St. Louis University, and his son Blaise plays baseball at Missouri State University. He is a very outspoken Christian and has been been involved in a lot of charity work off the field.
The Royals also considered internal candidates such as quality control coach Pedro Grifol, who also interviewed twice for the managerial opening with the Giants, as well as bullpen coach Vance Wilson. Flanagan reports they also interviewed some external candidates remotely.
The possibility of Matheny being hired has drawn a lot of ire from Royals fans on the internet, but it is easy to see why Dayton Moore was drawn to Matheny as a candidate. He brings the experience the Royals want to lead their young team back to competitive baseball and he espouses the old school approach and values they have emphasized.
Matheny will need to learn to run a clubhouse better than he did in St. Louis, and perhaps a second chance will give him an opportunity to improve his leadership in that regard, much like Ned Yost evolved between his time managing the Brewers and his time managing the Royals. You wouldn’t think that hiring a pennant-winning manager who won 55 percent of his games would be seen as a risky choice, but the Royals are taking a gamble here. Let’s just hope it works out.