KANSAS CITY, Mo. — The Kansas City Royals finished their season over the weekend with plenty to address. General Manager J.J. Picollo and Manager Matt Quatraro spoke with the media at Kauffman Stadium on Tuesday morning.
They discussed the season that just ended while looking ahead toward next year.
Watch a replay of the news conference in the video player above.
“What we showed is that we weren’t ready to compete for our division this year,” Picollo said.
“I don’t think the expectation was that. Right now I can’t say I think 2024 is the year we’re going to definitely win the division, but we expect to get better and I don’t think it is going to take a whole lot.”
Thanks to the win over the New York Yankees on Sunday, the Royals avoided the most losses in franchise history. However, the 56-106 outcome still tied the 2005 Royals for the most ‘L’s’ in one season throughout Kansas City’s existence.
“We got punched in the face early, and we didn’t recover from a win-loss record standpoint,” Quatraro mentioned. “But part of the reason I was able to be patient is because I believe what we are doing process wise.”
“My patience does not mean I’m not competitive. We got our butt kicked more than I would like, but I’m certainly not going to show up here and ask people to be sorry for me. That doesn’t happen not only in this game, but in this world.”
What can the 2015 World Series Champions do to get back to postseason relevance? That rarely has an easy answer, but there’s still something to be said for what went right for the club this season.
Royals want Bobby Witt Jr. long-term
Bobby Witt Jr. had an exceptional year. He became the first Royal to ever record 30+ homeruns and 30+ stolen bases. He was one stolen base away from 50 bags total.
“We’re very very pleased with Bobby Witt Jr. as our shortstop and expect him to play shortstop going forward,” Picollo said.
Barry Bonds, Ronald Acuña Jr. and Eric Davis are the only players to ever pull off 30+ home runs and 50+ stolen bases. There were a few opportunities for Witt Jr. to accomplish that in Sunday’s season finale against New York, but he was picked off once stealing second and recorded his league leading 11th triple.
“It’s clearly a goal of ours to sign Bobby long-term,” Picollo added. “He’s an exciting player, one of the best young players in the game. We would be foolish to not try to sign him long-term.”
“I don’t really want to comment on it more than that’s a goal of ours. It would be exciting to do so. He’s a special player and we want to try to keep special players in our uniform.”
Outfield and pitching needs addressed before 2024
Witt Jr. and the rest of the Royals infield can feel safe this offseason.
“Our infield is fairly set,” Picollo said. “We expect Vinnie Pasquantino to be back next year. The outfield is where the competition is going to be.”
“If we can get a deeper lineup, take some pressure off some other people, it’s got to be a complete team. But where we’re going to be hunting this offseason, its going to be the outfield more than the infield.”
Throughout the news conference it wasn’t just the outfield mentioned as areas that need the most addressing. Starting pitching and the bullpen are the highest priorities.
“Pitching is the name of the game,” said Picollo. “Let’s face it, if you give up two to three to four runs per game, you’re going to compete more often than if you’re giving up six or seven.”
There are three starting pitchers for the Royals expected back in the rotation next year; Jordan Lyles, Brady Singer and Cole Ragans. Picollo discussed them individually:
“Jordan Lyles we expect to be in the rotation,” Picollo stated. “I think Jordan would be the first one to say that he expects to pitch better. He’s in Charlotte right now working on things he can do to get better and more prepared for next season.”
“Brady (Singer) had an up and down year,” Picollo said. “Brady being in the WBC (World Baseball Classic) and not being able to be built up properly and us trying to ramp him up quickly, there’s a lot of inconsistencies with his year that I think can be traced back in our rotation. We count on Brady in our rotation.”
“Cole Ragans is the other one, but the last two spots are up for grabs and that’s a healthy thing,” he continued. “I don’t think it’s a coincidence that when Cole started playing well, the expectations in certain players was eye opening.”
The bullpen needs a refresh if Kansas City is going to make the improvements they hope for.
“There’s no question our bullpen has to be addressed,” Picollo said. “We have some guys that are capable that need to be more consistent. (Quatraro) needs to be able to rely on four to five guys on a nightly basis that can hold a lead. We didn’t have that this year so we need to get more talented and consistent in that area.”
Quatraro expanded on the idea of needing as much talent as possible on the roster.
“You can never have enough good players,” he said. “We have to create a tremendous amount of depth, because as soon as you think you have enough, you don’t cause somebody gets hurts, something happens away from the field, somebody underperforms so you can never get enough good players into your organization.”
What’s next for Salvador Perez and the Royals?
The second-highest paid catcher‘s contract goes through 2026. Perez is a beloved Royal, but the 33-year-old isn’t in his prime anymore. However, he is the older guy in the clubhouse that every team values from a leadership level.
“We got a couple years with Salvy,” Picollo said. “He reiterated on his way out the door that he wants to be a Royal and wants to be in Kansas City, he also follows that up with ‘I understand it’s a business’. He wants nothing more than to be apart of this team winning again.”
The plan is to help keep Perez as healthy as possible with sufficient rest throughout the season, and the occasional placement at first base or designated hitter. They felt he was “above average” as a first baseman whenever he got the chance this past season.
“He’s the guy in our clubhouse whose experienced success at the highest level in baseball,” the Royals GM added. “He feels good about where our team is, he feels better as the season ended than he did in the middle of the year. When we evaluate and think about leadership and veteran presence and needing more of it, Salvy represents that.”
Staff will stay the same
Picollo made it a point to begin the news conference revealing that the entire staff will be back for the 2024 season. If they’re going to make any changes, he said they will add more and not let anyone go.
“We’re going to have our entire coaching staff back,” he said. “A lot of people were in their position for the first time. There was a lot of learning going on amongst our staff.”
That was Quatraro’s first season as manager. Kansas City hired him knowing that there would be some rebuilding necessary before getting back to winning baseball games consistently. This will be Quatraro’s first full offseason to address their needs.
Financials and stadium relocation
Picollo just finished his third season as the Royals GM. He’s been employed by the club since 2006. Fans will keep a close eye on what decisions he makes before the 2024 season. The payroll is one to monitor.
“Right now we’ve got $30 million coming off the books, so we got some flexibility there,” Picollo revealed. “The beauty of having a young team is there’s not a lot of payroll tied up into that young team. We have to be optimistic about that.”
What about franchise revenue? Picollo vaguely mentioned new stadium plans when asked about the financials.
“There’s going to be a lot of things that change in this game as the years come, in particular in Kansas City,” he said. “Obviously there’s a stadium we are excited about and that may change our revenues.”
The organization is still mulling over which site they ultimately want to relocate to.