SURPRISE, Arizona – On the first official day of full-squad practice, Royals players listened to presentations and messages in the clubhouse. Coach Matt Quatraro reiterated what he’s said since he accepted the job: this is the team of players, the coaches are here for them and communication will be key this season. General Manager and Executive Vice President of Baseball Operations JJ Picollo echoed these points.
So did chairman and chief executive officer John Sherman.
“I feel a great responsibility towards [the players]Sherman said. “I want us to win for many reasons. For our fans. The community, but our players have short careers and if they can be part of a winning effort, their careers will be more fulfilling. They will make more money. This is what I have tried to express”.
After the game, Sherman spoke with the media for 20 minutes before heading to the backfields to watch Bobby Witt Jr.’s field work, Salvador Perez’s batting practice, and pitchers’ field practice.
Here are three takeaways:
1. The off-season changes have been well received
Sherman likes what he sees so far with the changes Picollo and the Royals have made this offseason, from new personnel to the data-driven mindset adopted by the organization. When Sherman handed Picollo control of the baseball operations department in September, he was confident Picollo could handle the challenge. Five months later, that feeling remains.
“I’m really excited about the way JJ has taken the reins,” Sherman said. “I think he’s really stepped up to it.”
Sherman praised Quatraro, who the Royals hired away from the Rays, as well as former Tampa Bay bench coach Paul Hoover. And Sherman was happy to hear the new ideas that pitching coaches Brian Sweeney, a former bullpen coach for the Guardians, and Zach Bove, a former assistant pitching coordinator with the Twins, have brought to the staff thus far.
“I think it’s important to cross-pollinate. Bring in best practices from other organizations,” Sherman said. “And also build an organization where people want your people and are willing to let your people go. That doesn’t mean we want to be Cleveland or we want to be Tampa. We want to be the Kansas City Royals, but how do we leverage the best talent and build our brand?”
2. The success of this season and future years is all about the youth of the Royals
Sherman said it was fair to say the goal in 2023 is to lay the groundwork for future years based on young talent in the Majors. The Royals’ payroll is expected to be about $86 million this year, which is down from ’22. When asked what he wants to see this year to be aggressive with payroll next season, Sherman said he wants to see the club progress.
Yes, that means more wins, certainly more than the 65 wins in 2022.
“Progression to being a competing team,” Sherman said. “We didn’t feel like that in ’22. There are many reasons for this, it’s nobody’s fault, but as a team, the results showed that we actually regressed. Turning the tables, seeing progress where we feel we’re going in the right direction where we’re positioned to fight our way back to the top of the division is the goal.
It also means ensuring the Royals have the right core for a competing team.
“And do we have the core?” Sherman said. “It seems to me that we have what it takes to place players in the next league-caliber lineup. We have work to do, it’s not [complete]. And is it really about developing the next pitching staff, both rotation and bullpen, that can compete at that level? I think seeing how we progress there will tell us more.”
3. Progress is slow but steady on the downtown ballpark floors
There have been no public updates on the Royals’ downtown ballpark plans since they held three community meetings this offseason, but Sherman said work has continued. The organization doesn’t have a site, but the list of four or five sites the club wants the ballpark and district to be “continues to shrink,” Sherman said.
“I hope we’re not too far away from being able to be more specific,” Sherman said. “We’re not hiding anything, it’s really just good business. We’re trying not to start a land rush somewhere in the city for the wrong reason.
After the community meetings, the organization met with political leaders and smaller community groups to push forward the plans and gather support. If the royals are hoping the issue will be voted on in August — who would be the first voters who could vote on the tax that would help pay for a new ballpark — voters need more information. This includes location, financing and infrastructure plans.
Several questions community members had at public gatherings this offseason were unanswered at the time.
“It’s about time for us to put down some tacks of brass and start making those specific requests and start negotiating,” Sherman said.