It was five years ago that the Milwaukee Brewers, 16 games over .500 but in the midst of a 3-11 funk to start September, fired Ned Yost.
The Brewers’ brass didn’t bring Yost into the office for a closed-door meeting. They didn’t tell him he needed to try something different with his team, which suddenly was playing scared. They fired him with 12 games to play and the Brewers in a tie for the National League wild card. USC didn’t treat Lane Kiffin this badly.
Dale Sveum replaced Yost as the 2008 season was winding down and Milwaukee won seven of 12, barely making the playoffs before losing 3-1 in a best-of-five series against the eventual world champions, the Philadelphia Phillies.
On Monday, Sveum was fired by the Chicago Cubs after two uninspired seasons. Meanwhile, on Tuesday, Yost was given a two-year contract extension as the manager of the Kansas City Royals.
Has a manager ever elicited more ho hums than Yost? The Royals improved to 86-76 in 2013, the franchise’s best season in 24 years. Any other manager would have received a ticker-tape parade, but Yost has never excited Kansas City’s fan base.
They question his decision-making. They question his demeanor. They wonder why Kansas City can’t do better.
But the days of Whitey Herzog and Dick Howser are long gone. When those guys were skippering — Herzog from 1975-79; Howser from 1981-86 — the Royals were 814-669 and made six playoff appearances. It was Jim Frey, though, who guided Kansas City, still with Whitey’s flavor, to the World Series in 1980. He was fired in the middle of the 1981 season, though, so there is no statue of Frey outside Kauffman Stadium.
The 18 other managers in Royals history, including Yost, have a combined record of 2,638-3,040. The Royals are 36 games under .500 with Yost calling the shots.
Obviously, general manager Dayton Moore, the man who once hired Trey Hillman to manage the Royals, didn’t want to spring a managerial change on a team that stayed in wild card contention until the final week of the season. And it’s not like Moore is on solid ground. The earth could collapse on him at any moment because his contract is due to expire after the 2014 season.
As improved as Kansas City was this season, does anybody believe the Royals are a lock to be in contention next season, too? If you do, I’d like to talk to you about an oil well I own in eastern nowhere.
There are some nice parts to this team. The bullpen is outstanding and the starting pitching was solid. Eric Hosmer looks like a perennial .300-plus hitter at first base and every team in baseball would love to have a young catcher like Salvador Perez.
But what other hitters can you depend on?
Neither Billy Butler nor Alex Gordon approached his 2012 production. Mike Moustakas is a below-average third baseman in every category that below average is measured and he’s not that young anymore. Shortstop Alcides Escobar is great with the glove but had a .559 OPS. The Royals haven’t had a legitimate second baseman since the Roosevelt administration (OK, Alberto Callaspo was pretty good in 2009) and don’t exactly have center field and right field figured out, either.
Kansas City steals bases but doesn’t hit home runs and they don’t take walks.
And how much more is Moore and owner David Glass willing to put into the payroll? It was a smidge over $80 million this season.
To take that next step, though, it probably needs to get closer to $100 million because the Royals don’t have a green room full of prospects waiting to deliver their acts.
Kansas City could go young — really young — with its starting rotation in 2014. If the Royals decide to let pending free agent right-hander Ervin Santana walk, which would seem like the right move, the starting five could include James Shields, Jeremy Guthrie and the cast of “High School Musical” — Danny Duffy, Yordany Ventura and last year’s No. 1 draft pick, Kyle Zimmer.
That might save some money to find a bat or two, which is what the Royals desperately need. Their lineup doesn’t sizzle and there’s enough promise with those young pitchers to perhaps convince Moore and Yost to ride them.
Then again, a bad start will probably mean a ride out of town for both guys. They’re not just trying to make Kansas City a better baseball team in 2014, they’re trying to stay employed.
The Royals got to 10 games over .500 this season, but the journey is just beginning. All 10 playoff teams this season won at least 90 games and nine of the 10 won at least 92.
Moore and Glass believe Yost is the right manager to make that final push up the mountain. I’d advise Yost not to look back.