Posted on October 31, 2019, by Bryan Zarpentine

St. Louis cardinals Mike Matheny
Image via foxsports.com

On Thursday, the Kansas City Royals announced a new managerial hire a year in the making. The club has named Mike Matheny as the new skipper, taking over for Ned Yost, who retired at the end of the season. Matheny was hired by the Royals last fall as a special advisor. All along, the assumption was that he would be in line to replace Yost whenever he was ready to retire. A little more than a month after Yost announced his retirement, Matheny is indeed the manager of the Royals.

“A year ago today was the first day I walked into the front office here at Kauffman Stadium,” Matheny said at his introductory press conference. “I remember that day extremely well for one reason more than any other, and that is when I left, I went home to Kristin and our five incredible kids, and I said, ‘I don’t know why, I can’t explain it, but I truly believe this is where I’m meant to be.'”

Matheny finished his 13-year career as a major league catcher in 2006. He got his first managerial job with the St. Louis Cardinals ahead of the 2012 season, as Matheny beat out several other candidates who had previous experience managing in the majors. Matheny had the near-impossible task of replacing legendary manager Tony La Russa. However, he led the Cardinals to the postseason in each of his first four seasons, including three straight trips to the NLCS and an unsuccessful World Series appearance in 2013.

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Unfortunately, things turned south for Matheny in St. Louis. After missing the playoffs in 2017, the Cardinals fired Matheny midway through the 2018 season with the team struggling to stay above .500. His tenure as the St. Louis manager ended after six and a half years with a record 117 games over .500 and a 21-22 postseason record. But while his time in St. Louis gave him the credentials, Matheny spending the past year within the Royals organization sold the club on him as their new manager.

“He has interacted with leadership of all levels,” said Royals GM Dayton Moore. “He’s spent time in our rookie league, with the medical staff, evaluating people for the draft. As Mike interacted with all those people, to a man, they were amazed by his leadership.”

Of course, Matheny’s job in Kansas City will be much different than it was in St. Louis. With the Cardinals, Matheny had a roster that was set up to win right away and expected to compete for championships. The Royals, on the other hand, are a team that’s in the middle of a rebuilding project. Yost believes he got the club through the worst of it. However, the Royals are coming off back-to-back seasons with over 100 losses.

That being said, the Royals have plenty of young talent in the organization, both in the majors and minors. Whit Merrifield has emerged as one of the best second basemen in baseball. Jorge Soler and Hunter Dozier both had breakout seasons in 2019. The Royals also have high hopes for shortstop Adalberto Mondesi. Those players and others should make up the core of Kansas City’s roster for years to come and Matheny believes he has a group of players he can win with both in the near future and for a long time to come.

“I’m so impressed with the talent that we have here in the core group and the talent that’s on the way,” said Matheny. “The one word that kept standing out to me was ‘sustained.’ It wasn’t just, ‘Let’s get back and have success.’ It was, ‘How do we create sustained success?'”

Of course, the Royals have a long way to go after going 59-103 this past season. Nobody is expecting Matheny to work miracles and take Kansas City to the playoffs in 2020. But the Royals have assembled a young core in the majors and a promising farm system. Now they have a proven major league manager who is eager to grow with the team in the years to come. While there are no guarantees that Matheny works out in Kansas City, on the surface, it looks like a safe long-term bet.

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