The phrase “playing out the string” didn’t come across Ned Yost’s mind when he started barking at the umpiring crew about a relatively benign play at first base Tuesday night.
The fact that his Royals team is closing in on 80 losses didn’t slow his march after he popped out of the dugout pointing and hollering and made a beeline for first base.
No thoughts of future seasons interrupted his impassioned argument for runner interference even after he’d been ejected.
For the middle of August during what will be a fourth consecutive non-playoff season amid the third rebuilding cycle of Yost’s managerial career (including one with Milwaukee), the soon to be 65-year-old still brings plenty of fire to the ballpark as he pilots a ship that likely won’t be equipped to reach its ultimate destination for a few years.
Already the most victorious manager in franchise history with two American League pennants, a World Series championship and more than 2,500 games as a major-league skipper under his belt, Yost was recently asked what keeps him going through these lean times as the Royals work towards building a core that can contend.
“It’s my job, that’s what keeps me going,” Yost roared. “I signed a contract to give my best effort every single day, that’s what keeps [me] going. And I like these kids. They work hard, they play hard. These kids have never dogged it one time. They continue to work, and they’re striving to get better. I want to help them. I want to help them get better. I signed a contract. Just because we’re struggling, doesn’t mean I quit.”
Depending upon how much longer Yost remains at the helm and how much longer it takes the Royals to bring to fruition the emphasis on the farm system and player development, it’s a genuine possibility — perhaps a likelihood — that Yost may be back on his farm in Georgia full-time when the Royals are ready to contend.
While Yost surely realizes this, he won’t discuss his future during the season. He’ll discuss what he believes is a bright future for the organization. But his place in that is not a topic he’ll delve into.
“I’ve been doing this a long time,” Yost said. “Every day I show up ready to go. I show up and walk through that door, and I’m going to give my best effort to them because they’re going to give their best effort for me. Combined, we’re going to give our best effort for the Kansas City Royals and the fans. That’s what we do every day — try to get better, try to win.”
Shaping a new core
The Royals were just a 55-win team his first season as manager in 2010. They were under .500 for his first three seasons, but then they won 86 games in 2013, went to the World Series in 2014 and were the central figures in a championship parade in 2015.
The core of that team has mostly dispersed with infielder Mike Moustakas and center fielder Lorenzo Cain playing for Milwaukee, first baseman Eric Hosmer in San Diego, outfielder Jarrod Dyson in Arizona, pitchers Wade Davis (Colorado), Kelvin Herrara (Chicago White Sox) having all also gone on to other organizations and Yordano Ventura the victim of a fatal car wreck.
The current Royals club has established players in outfielder Alex Gordon, All-Star infielder/outfielder Whit Merrifield, pitchers Danny Duffy and Ian Kennedy as well as catcher Salvador Perez (recovering from Tommy John surgery). Sluggers Jorge Soler and Hunter Dozier, shortstop Adalberto Mondesi and pitcher Brad Keller have look like potential mainstays.
The Royals have also seen 10 players make their major-league debuts this season, the second consecutive year with double-digit debuts. The Royals are also headed for 100 losses for the second straight season after expecting to contend for the postseason in the two years following the World Series.
“He’s definitely different than he was in ‘16 and ‘17 just because I think there was more expectation from that team,” Merrifield said of Yost. “I think he expected more out of us. I don’t know if that’s the right way to say it.”
When Merrifield first came up to the majors, the Royals still had significant remnants of their AL and World Series championship squads.
Merrifield points out that his relationship with Yost is much different than in 2016-17. He quipped that the only time the skipper spoke to him during those years was when he sent Merrifield back down to the minors.
With Merrifield having grown into one of the leaders of the current club, they now engage regularly.
“There’s optimism, which is great, which is what you want,” Merrifield said. “Things aren’t going well, so it’s nice to have some optimism coming from the guy in charge.”
Gordon has been with the Royals since before Yost took over as manager. He debuted in 2007, and is now a face of the franchise at age 35. He was part of the rebuilding process, middling seasons and two World Series runs.
He sees minimal difference in his manager now compared to past years. He’s got the same personality and the same approach to each day, with the understanding that the organization needs to play its young players with an eye toward the future.
Gordon believes Yost enjoys the process of building a winning team as much as he does reaching the end goal. In fact, the journey only adds to the enjoyment, according to Gordon.
“I think he just loves the game and loves to be around young players and watch them progress and get better,” Gordon told The Star. “He’s done it before, and he’s talked to us about it. We’ve had meetings about where we’re going and what we’re trying to accomplish, so everyone has been informed about that.
“He’s been through it before with the Hosmers and the Salvys and those guys, seeing them come up. I think it’s that much more gratifying when you see the failures, the struggles and then finally seeing come through like it did with us in ‘14 and ‘15. It’s pretty satisfying and something he will probably never forget.”
As for the looming possibility of Yost not being at the helm when the Royals have moved past taking lumps, Gordon sees himself in the same boat as Yost.
How much longer Gordon remains with the Royals is a question to which he still doesn’t have an answer. He’s already stated he doesn’t want to play for any other club besides the Royals. He could hang up his spikes for good after this season. He doesn’t plan to make any decision until after season’s end.
“I think it’s kind of just like me, doing your job, going out here playing or coaching the game that you love,” Gordon said. “I think we share that together where we’re talking about the future and down the road, and I don’t know how long I’ll be playing. But you still have a job to do and pride to go out there and do your best every day. That’s how we look at it.
“I think that’s how he looks at it. Yeah, we’re trying to prepare for the future, but we’re still trying to go out here and win every game. He’s trying and we’re trying. It’s definitely not happening all the time, but hopefully things are going to get better and brighter and he’ll be around for that.”