Mike Matheny was fired after his third season as Royals manager. Pitching coach Cal Eldred was also let go after his fifth season in that role.
Executive vice president/general manager JJ Picollo is scheduled to meet with local media on Thursday from Kauffman Stadium.
“We are grateful to Mike for leading us through some unusual times these last three seasons,” Picollo said in a team statement. “He put those challenges head on and helped us move forward in a positive manner. We thank him for his leadership and know his influence will have a positive impact moving forward.”
The Royals were headed in this direction for the past two weeks after owner John Sherman fired president of baseball operations Dayton Moore, handing over the baseball operations to Picollo and his assistant general managers. The past two weeks have been full of front office meetings, including several between Picollo and Matheny, about the future of the Royals and the vision Picollo has of turning the rebuild into contending seasons within the next couple of years.
Wednesday was Picollo’s first major move. The club is expected to make more changes to the coaching staff in the coming weeks, as well as other personnel changes throughout the organization.
The Royals exercised an option on Matheny’s contract during Spring Training this year, extending him through the 2023 season. But Matheny had been hired by Moore, and Sherman said when Moore was fired that Matheny’s evaluation and future in Kansas City would be left up to Picollo.
Matheny was hired after Ned Yost’s retirement in 2019 after spending a year as a special advisor to Moore. It was Matheny’s second stint as a manager, following his 6 1/2 seasons in St. Louis from ’12-18. He came to Kansas City determined to handle things differently with the media and analytics.
Matheny inherited a 103-loss team in 2019. In his first season, the Royals went 26-34 playing a pandemic-shortened 2020 schedule.
The 52-year-old embraced the Royals’ young clubhouse, including managing 13 players through their Major League debuts. But his presence was intense, several sources indicated to MLB.com, and some players felt they couldn’t be themselves around him.
The Royals were 165-219 under Matheny, including a 65-97 record in 2022 — a year in which they felt they could improve from last season.
Instead, they finished in last place in the American League Central, capped by Wednesday’s 9-2 loss to the Guardians at Progressive Field in which the Royals allowed 15 hits to the division winners. Kansas City went an MLB-worst 26-55 on the road this year.
“Managing the Royals has been a true privilege,” Matheny said in a statement released by the club. “I’m thankful to so many, primarily Dayton Moore and the coaches and players I’ve worked with. I would like to thank Mr. John Sherman and the ownership group for the opportunity to manage their team, and everyone involved in this great organization. I came to the Royals knowing it was an organization of excellence and care, and was shown that care every single day. Royals fans should be excited about this group of players, and I look forward to watching them continue to grow.”
Eldred, 54, spent 14 seasons in the Major Leagues and was a teammate of Matheny’s with Milwaukee and St. Louis. Eldred took over as the Royals’ pitching coach in 2017 after serving as an assistant to the general manager/player development the previous two seasons.
The Royals entrusted Eldred with a wave of young pitchers, including several from the 2018 MLB Draft, many of whom made their debuts over the last few years. But it hasn’t gone as well as they hoped; the Royals’ pitching staff finished 2022 with a 4.70 ERA, fourth worst in the Majors. The Royals’ 9.5% walk rate was only better than the Reds’ 9.8% this season.
Kansas City also finished last in the AL in strikeouts and allowed the most runs of any AL team.
Brady Singer took significant steps forward in his third season — in large part thanks to Eldred’s help with Singer’s mechanics — but the Royals did not see enough improvement from their other starters, including Daniel Lynch, Kris Bubic and Jonathan Heasley.