KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) — The Kansas City Royals hired Mike Matheny on Thursday, bringing in a manager who took the cross-state Cardinals to the World Series six years ago before a three-season swoon cost him his job.
The 49-year-old Matheny went 591-474 with the Cardinals and was the first manager to reach the postseason his first four seasons. The Cardinals reached the World Series in 2013, losing to the Red Sox, but Matheny was fired in July 2018 with the team in jeopardy of missing the playoffs.
Matheny was hired last November by the Royals as a special adviser for player development, and the belief among many was that he was being groomed to take over when Ned Yost retired.
That happened shortly before the Royals finished another 100-loss campaign last month.
“Our entire organization is delighted to announce and celebrate the hiring of Mike Matheny,” general manager Dayton Moore said in a statement. “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.”
The Royals are in the midst of a massive retooling effort after their back-to-back World Series appearances in 2014-15, a run of success that culminated with their first championship since 1985.
That team’s foundation reached free agency shortly after beating the New York Mets for the title, forcing the small-market organization to dismantle and rebuild. Wins have been hard to come by, but the team showed progress this past season as a wave of young position players reached the majors.
The fact that Matheny spent the past season evaluating the progress of those players, along with a batch of talented pitchers still in the minors, gave him a leg up in the competition for the job.
Matheny was a Gold Glove-winning catcher who succeeded Tony La Russa as Cardinals manager after St. Louis won the 2011 World Series. But after some immediate success endeared him to plenty of Cardinals fans, Matheny was just 216-201 in his final two-plus seasons, culminating in the club’s first in-season managerial change since Joe Torre was replaced by Mike Jorgensen in 1995.
The Royals can only hope Matheny has as much success in Kansas City as Torre had in his next stop: He led the New York Yankees to four World Series championships in a five-year span.
While Matheny brings postseason experience — he managed 43 playoff games in St. Louis — his real value beginning next season will be developing the young talent on the roster.
Talented shortstop Adalberto Mondesi had shoulder surgery but should be back next season, and outfielder Jorge Soler set a club record with 48 homers last season. Third baseman Hunter Dozier added 26 in a breakthrough season while Whit Merrifield had another 200-hit season at second base.
With a young lineup largely set, the Royals will spend the next couple of seasons piecing together a starting rotation and bullpen. Brad Keller and Jakob Junis are the only certainties among starters and closer Ian Kennedy was the only reliable relief option last season.
Matheny’s hiring comes at a pivotal juncture off the field, too.
In late August, the Glass family announced they were selling the Royals to an ownership group led by local businessman John Sherman in a deal expected to be worth about $1 billion. Sherman and his local co-investors will become only the third owners since Ewing Kauffman founded the club in 1969.
Sherman is considered an astute businessman and respected civic leader, but he’s also a brilliant baseball mind. He was a season ticketholder of the Royals for years before purchasing an interest in the Cleveland Indians — an interest he will be selling before his purchase of the Royals is complete.
League owners are expected to vote on the sale at their meeting Nov. 21.