Hillman reaches multiyear deal to manage Royals

KANSAS CITY, Mo. -- Trey Hillman has a daunting task. It's his turn to try leading the Kansas City Royals back to respectability.

A winner in Japan and in the minor leagues with the New York Yankees, Hillman was hired Friday to take over a long-struggling Royals team that hasn't been to the playoffs since the late Dick Howser guided Kansas City to the 1985 World Series title.

"In baseball circles on a national level, this couldn't be perceived as a better hire," Royals general manager Dayton Moore said.

The negotiations between Hillman and the Royals were first reported by Buster Olney of ESPN The Magazine.

The 44-year-old Hillman has never played, coached or managed in the majors. But he was always successful as a minor league manager, and his Nippon Ham Fighters are playing in the Japan Series for the second consecutive year.

"There is not a more qualified person out there to lead," Moore said by teleconference. "He's been a winner his whole life. There's a lot of guys with great bubble gum cards who aren't great managers."

Kansas City has seen plenty of them.

Tony Pena, Tony Muser, Bob Boone, Hal McRae, John Wathan and Billy Gardner all failed to get the talent-thin Royals into the playoffs. All but Buddy Bell either got fired or quit under pressure. Bell announced in August this would be his last year after the club refused to give him a contract extension.

Now, Hillman steps into what has been a managerial graveyard. He spent 13 years managing in the Yankees' minor league system and three times was a manager of the year.

The Yankees job came open Thursday when Joe Torre declined a one-year offer to stay in New York, but Moore said that wasn't what made the Royals move quickly.

"We knew what we wanted to do long before Joe Torre decided to step down," Moore said.

Was he concerned the Yankees might want to talk with Hillman?

"I think concern is too strong a word," Moore said. "I can't control the Yankees' level of interest. I don't get concerned with what other clubs are doing."

Hillman, given a multiyear contract, will be introduced at a news conference Monday. The Royals would not disclose financial terms. He takes over a team that showed signs of improvement this season despite finishing last in the AL Central for the fourth straight year.

The Royals avoided 100 losses for the first time in three seasons, and they have hope for a brighter future. The roster features several talented young players, including third baseman Alex Gordon, slugger Billy Butler and right-handers Brian Bannister and Zack Greinke.

Between a seven-game losing streak at the end of May and a seven-game skid at the beginning of September, the Royals were 43-40, their best stretch over an extended period since 2003.

In addition, right-hander Gil Meche signed a $55 million, free-agent contract with the Royals last offseason that appeared to signal a shift in owner David Glass' tightfisted ways. Meche went 9-13, but with a solid 3.67 ERA.

The Royals are expected to be active again this winter in the free-agent market.

Kansas City also plans to retain Bob McClure as pitching coach. In his two seasons, McClure has been credited with helping to develop Greinke, Bannister and other young pitchers who appear ready to help the Royals.

Moore, who replaced the fired Allard Baird in 2006, described his new manager as "an exceptional person with a great passion to lead."

After the news conference Monday, Hillman will fly back to Japan to finish managing his team there.

"He's a great man of character," Moore said. "I always felt if you want somebody to lead, to evaluate character, they have to have character themselves. All the guys we spoke to on the interview list met that criteria."

Hillman has spent the past five years managing in Japan. He was a second baseman in Cleveland's minor league system and advanced as high as Triple-A. But his managerial skills have always seemed sharp.

"He won at every level, was manager of the year at three different levels," Moore said. "In Japan, the first two years, his team showed improvement. The fourth year they won the Japanese Series and this year they're back in the Japanese Series with a team that's virtually last in every offensive category."

The Texas native interviewed for the Rangers' managing job in 2002 and was appointed their director of player development that year.

The latest development created a stir at the Hillman family home in Arlington, Texas.

"My two daughters and I are just beside ourselves," Hillman's father, Royce, told The Associated Press. "This is a great day. It's something he's worked hard for, for a number of years. But he's always been successful. He's always wanted to manage in the major leagues."

Information from The Associated Press was used in this report.