It’s easy fodder to blast the Matheny hiring as the worst baseball decision involving the Royals since the end of 1985. Go ahead, but it’s a great move for both sides, and the fact that I feel that way opens the door wide for self-loathing.
Aside from his inflexible thinking, horrid bullpen management, inexplicable rigidity in lineup construction, and lack of visible emoting beyond the stoicism reflected by subtle changes to his incredibly handsome jawline, Mike Matheny’s greatest failing was his inability to rely on younger players by giving them the freedom to do what they do best. The Royals are giving him a chance to correct this failing, and he would be a fool not to make the most of it.
“Special Adviser for Player Development” sounds like an intentionally vague title given to someone you want to hire just because you want to hire them. To some extent it really is, and the only thing more generic is the “special assistant to the GM” title often reserved for golfing/hunting/fishing buddies. It’s also the perfect place for Matheny.
Ironically, the one thing Matheny lacked in St. Louis that stood out above all else was faith. Sure, he had plenty of faith in Molina to catch 57,000 innings per season, but his lack of faith in just about everyone else left a lasting impression. Just ask Kolten Wong. Or Luke Voit. Or Harrison Bader.
Faith is really the primary tool needed in player development. Developing players requires an immense amount of faith in what they can do and what they can become. There is very little instant gratification. It’s about playing the long game, and the people involved in that game are focused on maximizing potential gains that may not be evident for years.
Matheny just spent 7+ years focusing on a major league active roster and guys who could potentially help that active roster. He knows what it takes to succeed at that level, and he knows from both a player’s and a manager’s perspective. The Royals just stole another one here. We’re not exactly talking about Kobe Bryant teaching his daughter’s basketball team to run the triangle offense, but he’s definitely a guy with gravitas who doesn’t need to prove himself to some 2nd round draft pick either.
How many other teams are adding someone with Matheny’s resume in a player development position? Are there even other guys out there with anything close to his resume? If so, they are probably interviewing for big league managerial positions. Matheny could easily be doing the same, but instead he’ll probably be filling in a resume gap for a year or two.
Add a couple years of experience working with prospects to his resume, and Matheny “could” become a fairly competent handler of talent. That doesn’t mean he’ll become a better strategist. If playing chess doesn’t teach you the importance of utilizing every single piece at your disposal, then nothing will. It also doesn’t mean he’ll learn how to use relievers in the best possible way. However, learning about having faith in what guys can do and how best to deploy them during games could really pay dividends.
The Royals get a ex-manager who once avoided preventing his team from winning a pennant. Matheny gets a chance to learn about players under the age of 30. It’s a win-win, and I still hate it. I just hope that when Handsome Mike v2.0 makes his appearance that he’s in the AL, because FS Midwest will absolutely flog the “former manager returns to Busch with another team so let’s praise the BFiB for the totally unnecessary standing ovation until things getting really awkward” narrative every single time he comes to town.