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Royal blood: Why heavy Kansas City presence is to be expected (and good) for White Sox under Chris Getz

Vinnie Duber Avatar
March 4, 2024
Chris Getz

Yes, yes. The White Sox are teeming with former Royals. I know.

If I’m being honest, an offseason’s worth of Twitter jokes wore a little thin for yours truly.

But being a man of the people, I felt the need to get to the bottom of what fans consider the South Side’s wintertime transformation into Kansas City North.

Whether it’s the offseason additions first-year general manager Chris Getz made to the roster, like Nicky Lopez and Martín Maldonado, or the people he brought into his front office, like Jin Wong and Gene Watson, there’s no avoiding the abundance of Royals connections.

But as fans pulled their hair out over an imagined effort to emulate a team that routinely finishes near the bottom of the AL Central, it turns out that no one inside the organization or in the industry is seeing this as anything worth complaining about. In fact, the consensus is that Getz’s welcoming of many a former Royals employee – he himself is one, both as a player and a front-office member – is to be expected.

“It’s very natural, when you think about it,” Royals general manager J.J. Picollo said last month in an interview with CHGO. “You can go around (Major League Baseball) and look at how front offices have been put together. It’s based on past relationships, for the most part.

“I know when (the people long in charge of the Royals under Dayton Moore’s leadership) first went from Atlanta to Kansas City, there were a lot of people from Atlanta who came to Kansas City, and we heard the same thing, ‘This is Atlanta West.’ … And it’s a very natural reaction, too. There’s nothing wrong with the reaction.

“But I can tell you this: No general manager, no director, is going to hire people who they don’t think can help them be successful. Jin Wong’s been a highly successful executive for a long time in baseball. Gene Watson, a highly successful scout in professional baseball for a long time. There’s a reason Getzy wants them. If they weren’t any good, he’s not going to want them working for him.

“I’m not shocked by it. And actually, I’m kind of happy that Chris gets to put some people around him that he’s worked with in the past and is building his circle of trust. You’ve got to have some people you can confide in at the highest level, and those two guys represent it.”

Familiarity and trust would figure to be easy enough explanations as to why the White Sox’ front office includes guys like Wong and Watson. Brian Bannister, the team’s new pitching czar, found his front-office success with the Red Sox and Giants, but folks were quick to point out his playing days were spent mostly with the Royals, including a season as Getz’s teammate.

But past the front office, there have been a lot of former Royals, too. Lopez and Maldonado are expected to take over as everyday guys. But even non-roster invitees to spring training like Brett Phillips and Mike Moustakas, a cornerstone of those successful Royals teams of a decade ago and another former Getz teammate, allow the train of social-media jokes to keep steaming ahead at full speed.

“It’s more the individuals,” Getz said last month, asked about the ample number of former Royals in White Sox camp. “In speaking to Moose, we’ve got a history, both (as my) teammate and I was in the front office over there. We’ve become friends through the years, and I know what he can bring to the table, most importantly as a player. It allowed me to get a different type of access, perhaps. Why wouldn’t you take advantage of something like that?

“When it comes to connections with (former) Royals, I look at the individual. If it happens to give me the benefit because there’s a longer history, then so be it.”

Moustakas hasn’t been the productive hitter he was in Kansas City for years, but he could find a way onto the White Sox’ roster as a positive clubhouse presence and a left-handed bat off the bench. Getz and manager Pedro Grifol, who was a longtime Royals coach before becoming the South Side skipper ahead of last season, obviously have firsthand knowledge of what Moustakas can do inside the clubhouse and what sort of aid he might be in the culture-building aspect of their organizational makeover.

Moustakas, meanwhile, has unique insight into the guy leading that renovation project.

“It’s pretty awesome to know him personally and have this opportunity to play for him,” Moustakas said of Getz in the early days of spring training. “I believe in him. I believe in what he’s doing. I’m excited to be a part of what he’s building here.

“He’s always been an intelligent, intellectual guy and saw the game a little bit differently. When he was with the Royals in the front office, you could see the climb he was starting to have. For him to be in this position, have this opportunity, it’s awesome. I’m really excited for him and what he’s going to do, not only in this organization but in baseball.”

But while all this might explain why it’s perfectly normal for Getz to be leaning on his personal history in the game, it probably does little to answer fans’ worried queries about how it will make the White Sox better. While it’s only looking at a one-year sample, the Royals were one of a small number of major league teams to finish with a worse record than the 101-loss White Sox last season.

The Royals have been world champions 10 years more recently than the White Sox, winning back-to-back AL pennants in 2014 and 2015 and winning the World Series in the second of those years. Of course, that success is now a decade old. The White Sox are focused on the future, not the past, right?

While the White Sox aren’t the small-market team the Royals are, there’s something about the way that team has played in the past that team brass wants applied to the present and future on the South Side. Grifol has invoked the mid-2010s Royals teams when talking about how he wants his White Sox to start playing in 2024. His “play FAST” philosophy crystalized this winter after years of building throughout his career, so many seasons of which were spent in Kansas City.

“I understand the frustrations,” Lopez told CHGO when asked about the aforementioned fan reactions. “Obviously, last year wasn’t the year Chicago wanted, and a lot of Royals players are coming over here. But what we’re trying to build is playing FAST, and you see it in 2015 when that team won the World Series.

“It does work, but it also takes a lot of buying in, it takes a lot of belief. We’re putting together pieces that all work together, as well, trying to create a good clubhouse in here. The vibes are high. Last year, I was told it wasn’t very good. I obviously can’t speak on experience when this is my first year. But we’re getting the right pieces, and I think times are changing around here, which is good.”

While Getz has refused to use the word “rebuild,” what’s happening on the South Side looks exactly like a rebuild, the sort of project that resulted in the Royals’ success a decade ago and the sort of project that failed to get off the ground under Getz’s predecessor, Rick Hahn.

But it’s clear in listening to Getz, and from the actions he’s taking, that he’s embarking upon a full-scale organizational overhaul, not just reshaping the major league roster but changing the way things are done at every level. He’s talked about establishing a team identity that didn’t exist previously. When it comes to that kind of remodel, emulating the Royals might not be the worst thing. Apart from the on-field success that resulted in a World Series, what was happening behind the scenes received rave reviews.

“I got the pleasure of working for Dayton Moore for 10 years, 10 seasons. Class organization, complete class. Prepared, vision, creative,” Grifol said in an interview with CHGO. “I know how they did it there. You can say, ‘You only won a couple years, but you didn’t do it (more).’ That’s part of a small market. You go for it, and you try to sustain it and sustain it as much as you can and things dismantle. Then you’ve got to build it again. … That’s what the Royals were about.

“We didn’t win the last few years (I was there), but it wasn’t that we weren’t heading in the right direction. Dayton was doing a really good job. It’s just that people don’t see what’s happening down below, they only see wins and losses. But it was slowly trickling to where it was supposed to be.”

White Sox fans obviously want something more exciting than a slow trickle.

It’s easier to explain why Getz is bringing in the people he has than it is to promise that their influence will produce results, and until those results come about, there will be plenty of people lamenting all the former Royals helping him run the show.

But if it results in the kind of success Kansas City got to experience a decade ago, there’s certainly something worth taking from Getz and Grifol’s days in the Show Me State.

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