Royals manager Ned Yost isn't freaking out as team struggles to win
The question is natural because Ned Yost has money and memories and can make more of both in a good life he's built for himself back home.
He and Deborah, married more than 40 years now, built their dream house on a chunk of Georgia country so vast the Yosts own everything you can see in any direction, except the sun and clouds.
He has a money guy who's helped him set up income streams off the land, enough to live his dream, which for him means mostly shooting deer and catching fish and laughing with his friends. Deborah wants him home, too.
Yost's baseball team in Kansas City, well, stinks. He won't say this, and he'd clap back at the suggestion, but facts are facts. The team is not young, and it's not exactly cheap, and it has the worst record in the American League. Most nights, well more than half the stadium is empty.
This is all true, and Yost is on the last year of his contract with the Royals, so maybe you'd expect him to at least hesitate when asked if he wants to manage the team next season. He does not hesitate.
"Absolutely," he said. "Oh yeah, no doubt."
OK. Well, and here comes the natural question: Why?
"I like this group of young kids, one, and two, I love this organization and I want to try to put it in a position to succeed," he said. "This is tough times. Can you imagine a new manager trying to come in and negotiate a 5-17 team? It'd be hard on them. It's easier for me to do it. The rough times, it's easier for me to do it.
"When we get out of the rough waters ... maybe that's when I'll look at it. But not until then."
This is more complicated, for a lot of reasons, most obviously money. Yost's salary is unknown, but he's almost certainly making more than ever before, likely millions this year and millions more on a new contract next year.
He may not need the money, but how many of us have turned down millions to do a job we enjoy? So, no. This is not simply about a group of players or paying back an organization he already helped to a parade.
Those reasons to retire are real, too. Not just the losing, and not just the World Series ring. Ned and Deborah have the kind of marriage where they call each other multiple times a day, always ending the conversation with I love you.
Ned will be 64 in August. Baseball is a long grind, and that's usually mentioned in the context of players and coaches, but in some ways the wives have it worse. That's a lot of nights alone. Ned's gruesome fall from a deer stand in the offseason only heightened her concerns.
"She's deathly afraid something's going to happen to both of us when we get to that retirement age," he said. "That's what happened to her mom. They got to where they were going to retire, and she got cancer and passed away. So she's not huge on me doing this forever and ever."
Yost said he and general manager Dayton Moore have been talking, but this is all preliminary stuff. Even as it's hard to imagine something not getting done if Yost wants, it's worth mentioning that nothing has reached the ownership level.
The impact of big-league managers is often overstated. Players perform, or they don't. The most critical decisions, such as lineups and bullpen usage, are done with more data and collaboration than ever before. Ego management, psychology and people skills are important, but generally there are more baseball men qualified for the job than jobs available.
But Yost may have a point here. The stakes are lower now, but the risk of culture deterioration is real as the Royals straddle this awkward gap between the championship core phasing out and when the next wave (hopefully) emerges.
Because Yost can talk about "young kids," but the Royals are actually one of baseball's oldest teams. Jorge Soler and Cheslor Cuthbert are the only current position players younger than 28. This is the oldest group of hitters the Royals have had since 1994, and among the pitchers, only a handful have a realistic chance of being part of the next winning team even if the rebuild is finished on schedule.
So, when Yost says he'd like to help the Royals out of "the rough waters," he's almost certainly talking beyond next year. The Royals' best vision of their future includes Nick Pratto, for instance. He is 19 years old, in low Class A, his first full season of professional baseball.
For an organization that sees its competitive edge largely in building a strong culture, these are dangerous times.
"We all saw a group come together," Moore said, referring to the core than eventually won the 2015 World Series. "We lived and died with every pitch, we pulled with them, we struggled with them, we doubted with them, we celebrated with them.
"Those challenges haven't even begun yet. These challenges here aren't those challenges."
This is Yost's value, then. Even with consecutive pennants, he has lost 61 more games than he's won in his career — 1,152 total over 15 years. He's found the sunshine from darkness here and in Milwaukee, and he's smart enough to learn the rhythms required for the climb.
If you pay close enough attention, you can see this on him every day, different moods directly but often inversely related to the team's moment. He took over for a fired manager of a team that had lost 93 games or more in all but two of the previous 10 seasons and told anyone who would listen that he was 100 percent sure he would win.
The winning happened, eventually, and that's when Yost was at his grumpiest. A lot of coaches are like this, in ways big and small. Yost is short and grouchy during win streaks, and has trained himself to be patient and smile through losing streaks.
So he's in a great mood these days. He jokingly blames a rainstorm on the groundskeeper, calls out a beat writer for taking too many days off, and speaks at length about a roster full of guys he says have the same effort and attitude through losing and winning.
Yost likes to say this job doesn't define him, and that's true in his own self image and those who know him best. But he knows that the job defines him to many others, and if he's honest, that's OK too. Because he is a baseball lifer, a top-10 pick who never played more than 80 games in a season, then worked his way up again from the minors as a coach.
The money is good now, and he's sincere about liking his players and the organization that gave him the opportunity of his professional life. But you don't last this long without enjoying the rotten parts of the job, too, and if managing a team winning barely a game a week is rotten then Yost will enjoy it as long as he can.
"It's a hard job to beat," he said. "It's a fun job."