KANSAS CITY, Mo. – The Kansas City Royals fired longtime executive Dayton Moore on Wednesday, ending the roller-coaster tenure of an influential general manager and president who took the club from perennial 100-game loser to two World Series and the 2015 championship before its quick return to mediocrity.
Royals owner John Sherman, who retained Moore after acquiring the club from David Glass in 2019, announced the move during a news conference at which Moore spoke briefly before quietly slipping out of the room.
“I think the objective is clear: It’s to compete again for championships, and we have to make sure we’re progressing toward that goal,” said Sherman, whose club was 30 games below .500 heading into its game against Minnesota.
“In 2022 we regressed,” Sherman said, “and that happens. It happens to great teams. But as I started talking to Dayton and others, I felt like we needed more change than was talked about, and that was a big reason to make this one.”
Sherman tried a mild shakeup to the front office last offseason, elevating Moore from general manager to president of baseball operations while giving J.J. Picollo the GM title. But the awkward splitting of jobs never worked out, and Sherman decided to move forward with Picollo handling all aspects of baseball operations.
Picollo was the first person Moore hired when he took over the Royals in 2006.
“I’ve known J.J. since he was 21 years old,” Moore said during his brief remarks. “He’s an incredible leader, and as I’ve mentioned before, he’s more than prepared to lead the baseball operations department in a very innovative and productive way. I’m proud that he’s continued to get this opportunity.”
Sherman said he expects other changes to be discussed down the stretch and into the offseason, including whether to keep manager Mike Matheny and his coaching staff. But it will be up to Picollo to make those decisions.
“J.J. has been great to work with,” Matheny said. “Had him on the road, had a lot of meetings here recently as the season has been winding down. He has a great perspective on the system and what needs to be done.”
Moore was hired in 2006 and tasked with rebuilding an organization that had not reached the playoffs in more than two decades. He quickly followed the blueprint that he learned from longtime Braves executive John Schuerholz, investing in Latin America and the minor league system before spending on proven major league talent.
It took most of another decade for the plan to work, but the Royals began to see progress with a winning record in 2013, when a wave of young players began to reach the majors. And the breakthrough came the following year, when a team built around Eric Hosmer and Mike Moustakas won the first of two consecutive AL pennants.
The Royals lost their first trip to the World Series to the San Francisco Giants in a dramatic seven-game series, but they finished the job the following year, beating the New York Mets in five for their first championship since 1985.
“He’s a great guy, a great person,” said Royals catcher Salvador Perez, one of the stars of those championship years. “It’s hard, you know? I never thought that he was going to leave this organization.”
For most of the people in the organization, Moore is the only boss they’ve ever known.
“Everybody looks at us like baseball players,” Royals second baseman Nicky Lopez said, “but there’s a life out of baseball and he cared about it. He cares about us as people, which is something very special.”
The end of Moore’s tenure may have seemed abrupt Wednesday, but it was years in the making.
He knew it would be impossible for the small-market organization to keep Hosmer and other stars as they hit free agency after their championship years, so after a middling 2016, the club began a nearly top-to-bottom rebuild.
It was slowed by poor drafts, lousy player development and the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic on baseball, and the Royals had consecutive 100-loss seasons. And when the club finally made strides last season, and some of its young talent graduated to the big leagues, it failed to capitalize on it. The Royals started slowly this season and never recovered.
“There is a gap right now between where we are and where we expected,” said Sherman, who owned a piece of the first-place Guardians before acquiring the Royals. “I felt like in 2021 we did make progress, and in 2022, that’s not how I feel.”
The organization Picollo is tasked with taking to the next level is better off than what Moore inherited 16 years ago: Infielder Bobby Witt Jr. is among the leading contenders for AL Rookie of the Year, and rookies such as Vinnie Pasquantino and MJ Melendez give Kansas City a young core reminiscent of the group Hosmer and Moustakas one led.
Yet there are plenty of organization problems that Picollo must address.
The Royals for years have struggled to develop pitching – their staff currently has the fourth-worst ERA in baseball and the worst WHIP by a wide margin, which led to the firing of pitching coordinator Jason Simontacchi earlier this season.
They have struggled to identify impact talent in the draft, consistently whiffing on first-round picks. That includes four chosen over a two-year span during their World Series years that failed to make a meaningful big league impact.
And they have struggled to keep up with the changing times, preferring old-school, anecdotal scouting methods to new-school analytics and data-driven decision-making that has leveled the playing field with big-market ballclubs.
“Dayton always talks about what a championship team looks like. That’s a great conversation,” Sherman said, “but I’d like to know what a wild-card team looks like first. Because Kansas City fans know, if you can get a wild-card slot and get into the dance, anything can happen.”