- The pitching coach carousel seems to be a particular area to watch in the coaching ranks this offseason, with Jim Hickey among the notable names on the market. Per MLB.com’s Carrie Muskat, via Twitter, the former Rays pitching coach held a chat with the Cubs today. He has also already engaged with the Giants and Cardinals, she notes.
The Nationals became the latest team with a managerial vacancy last Friday when they announced that skipper Dusty Baker would not return for a third season with the team. The Nats have traditionally shown little penchant for hesitation when it comes to shuffling the dugout mix, as evidenced by the fact that they’re now seeking their fourth manager since the 2011 season. No manager has lasted more than three years at the helm in D.C. since the franchise moved there from Montreal.
It’s not yet clear how many candidates the Nats plan on interviewing, but we’ll track the candidates and update accordingly here in this post as they come to light.
Will Interview/Have Interviewed
- Barry Svrluga of the Washington Post tweets that the Nationals have received permission from the division-rival Mets to interview hitting coach Kevin Long for the position. Long, who has spent the past three seasons as the Mets’ hitting coach and held the same post for the Yankees in the seven preceding years, was reportedly a finalist in the Mets’ search. However, the Mets ultimately selected Indians pitching coach Mickey Callaway as their new skipper.
- The Nats will interview Cubs bench coach Dave Martinez, reports Jorge Castillo of the Washington Post. The 53-year-old Martinez has previously interviewed for the position in 2013, Castillo notes, before the Nats elected to go with Matt Williams. Gordon Wittenmyer of the Chicago Sun-Times further reports that Martinez came quite close to being named Nationals manager after Williams was dismissed, but ownership decided late in the process that a candidate with prior MLB managerial experience was needed. Wittenmyer writes that some within the industry consider Martinez the favorite this time around. Martinez has spent a decade as Joe Maddon’s bench coach, dating back to 2008 with the Rays. Martinez spent parts of 16 seasons in the Majors as an outfielder, including four with the Expos before the franchise moved to Washington, D.C.
The Angels announced today that they’ve hired former big league slugger Eric Hinske as their new hitting coach. Hinske, 40, has spent the past three seasons serving as the Cubs’ assistant hitting coach.
A former 17th-round draft pick (Cubs, 1998), Hinske broke out as the 2002 American League Rookie of the Year with the Blue Jays and went on to enjoy a 12-year Major League career. In 4310 plate appearances as a big leaguer, Hinske hit .249/.332/.430. Hinske appeared in four straight postseasons from 2007-10 with the Red Sox, Rays, Yankees and Braves, taking home a pair of World Series rings during that stretch (2007 Red Sox, 2009 Yankees). The Halos had already announced that former hitting coach Dave Hansen would not be returning to the team.
Krol posted a strong 3.18 ERA over 51 relief innings for the Braves in 2016, with an 0.7 HR/9 rate that seemed to indicate he had corrected his past issues in keeping the ball in the park. This wasn’t the case in 2017, however, as Krol’s HR/9 jumped to 1.5 and his ERA (5.33) reflected that increase. The southpaw also posted an 8.1 K/9 and 2.1 K/BB rate over 49 innings.
MLBTR contributor Matt Swartz projected Krol to earn $1.3MM in his second winter of arbitration eligibility. (Krol and the Braves avoided arbitration last winter by agreeing to a $900K deal.) Krol agreed to the minor league assignment rather than opting for free agency, which could indicate some type of deal between he and the club to continue their relationship past the non-tender deadline. Atlanta could still non-tender Krol but then re-sign him to a minor league deal worth less than that $1.3MM figure.
The Braves selected Rivero out of the Cubs organization in last December’s Rule 5 draft, and Rivero ended up spending the entire season on the DL due to shoulder problems. In clearing outright waivers, the Cubs would have had to pass on taking Rivero back, so the Cuban right-hander is now officially under the Braves’ control.
Rivero originally signed with the Cubs for a $3.1MM bonus in March 2013 and posted some eye-popping strikeout numbers in Chicago’s minor league system. Rivero posted a 12.4 K/9 over 220 career relief innings in the minors, with a 2.70 ERA and 4.4 BB/9. Those walk totals crept upwards in 2015-16 when Rivero was pitching at Triple-A, so between that decrease in control and the Cubs’ loaded roster, Rivero was available last winter for the Braves to grab in the Rule 5 draft.
- Former Rays pitching coach Jim Hickey has already interviewed for jobs with the Cardinals and Red Sox, and he’ll meet with the Cubs on Monday, according to Bruce Levine of 670thescore.com (Twitter link). The Cubs are in need of a pitching coach after firing Chris Bosio on Saturday. If Hickey takes over for Bosio, he’ll reunite with Cubs manager and former Rays skipper Joe Maddon, who was Hickey’s boss in Tampa Bay from 2007-14. Hickey and Maddon remain close, per Jesse Rogers of ESPN.com.
Dodgers manager Dave Roberts is optimistic shortstop Corey Seager will be able to return for the World Series, Ken Gurnick of MLB.com was among those to report (Twitter link). “Corey doesn’t want to be denied,” Roberts said of Seager, who missed the Dodgers’ five-game National League Championship Series triumph over the Cubs with a lower back sprain. Reserve Charlie Culberson provided surprisingly excellent production at shortstop against the Cubs, hitting .455/.417/.818 in 13 plate appearances, but he’s obviously not in Seager’s stratosphere. Seager has opened his career with two superstar-caliber seasons and is arguably the Dodgers’ top position player.
- The Cubs’ firing of pitching coach Chris Bosio on Saturday was manager Joe Maddon’s decision, Paul Sullivan and Mark Gonzales of the Chicago Tribune report. Maddon’s relationship with Bosio deteriorated as the season progressed, per Sullivan and Gonzales, who add that Mike Maddux and the previously reported Jim Hickey are candidates to serve as the Cubs’ next pitching coach. Maddux was the Nationals’ pitching coach over the past two years, but his time with the club ended with manager Dusty Baker’s exit. Hickey, meanwhile, is also on the Cardinals’ radar, according to Sullivan and Gonzales.
- Hickey is also drawing serious interest from the Cubs, according to Sahadev Sharma of The Athletic (subscription required and recommended). He’d take over for Chris Bosio, whom the Cubs fired Saturday, and would reunite in Chicago with former Rays manager Joe Maddon. Letting go of Bosio may have been a front office-driven move, posits Sharma, who notes that president of baseball operations Theo Epsein was particularly disappointed in the bullpen’s last-ranked walk rate in 2017. The struggles of midseason acquisition Justin Wilson, who was terrific out of Detroit’s bullpen but undependable as part of Chicago’s, likely helped lead to Bosio’s ouster, Sharma suggests. Across 17 2/3 innings with the Cubs, Wilson walked 19 (compared to 16 in 40 1/3 innings as a Tiger) and logged a 5.09 ERA. Consequently, he appeared in only one of the Cubs’ 10 playoff games.
The Braves are in an unfavorable position headed into the offseason. John Coppolella has already resigned due to a breach of MLB’s rules regarding the international players market, leaving a dark cloud hovering over the organization and rumors swirling as to whether or not John Hart will remain with the organization. Braves beat reporter Mark Bowman of MLB.com writes about some of the inconveniences the organization faces due to this uncertainty. Because the Braves don’t know who will be “steering the ship”, as Bowman puts it, the club cannot yet decide on its direction for the upcoming winter. Decisions such as R.A. Dickey’s contract option and potential trades to clear a spot for top prospect Ronald Acuna are floating in baseball operations limbo. In the meantime, director of player personnel Perry Minasian and assistant general manager Adam Fisher have scrambled to learn as much as they can about the club’s assets and needs, having been with the organization for just one month. The club will hope for answers on Hart’s future in Atlanta sooner rather than later in order to gain clarity on the club’s direction for the offseason.
More news from around the National League…
- The Cubs have dismissed longtime pitching coach Chris Bosio, according to a tweet from Bob Nightengale of USA Today. Robert Murray of FanRag sports later confirmed the news. Bosio had been the club’s pitching coach since 2012, including earning a World Series ring with the club just last season after guiding the Cubs pitching staff to a 3.15 team ERA. Murray names Jim Hickey as a potential candidate to fill Bosio’s role.
- Earlier today, Nightengale also tweeted that the Giants dismissed pitching coach Dave Righetti, shifting him to a role in the front office. Murray was able to confirm the reassignment of Righetti through his own sources. Righetti had been the pitching coach in San Francisco for 17 years, making him the longest-tenured pitching coach in major league baseball before his reassignment, as well as the longest-tenured pitching coach in all of Giants history. Murray notes that the club’s 4.50 ERA in 2017 can’t all be blamed on Righetti; ace Madison Bumgarner missed a large portion of the season due to a shoulder injury sustained in a dirt bike accident. According to a later tweet by Jon Shea of the San Francisco Chronicle, Righetti will serve as a special assistant to GM Bobby Evans. Shea also adds that bullpen coach Mark Gardner will also be shifted to a special assignment role in the front office, while assistant hitting coach Steve Decker will take on a special assistant role in baseball operations.
Putting a wrap on the 2017 season, Cubs president of baseball operations Theo Epstein spoke with the media today (as covered by Gordon Wittenmyer of the Chicago Sun-Times and Patrick Mooney of NBC Sports Chicago, among others).
While the Cubs did not quite live up to expectations — the team won *only* 92 games and did not return to the World Series — Epstein suggests that any failure is only relative to the lofty standards the organization now carries. The team’s competitive window is still fully open, he argues, saying that the Cubs are “really well positioned for the future.”
That said, it’s tough to deny that the roster showed more weak points than had been anticipated — a subject also addressed today by Dave Cameron of Fangraphs. With several key pitchers heading to free agency, some bullpen failings, and questions in the outfield, it seems there could be an opening for relatively significant change this offseason.
Epstein hardly promised a shake-up, but did suggest a willingness to consider trading from a stock of players that may have been seen as mostly off-limits in the not-so-distant past:
“Sooner or later you reach a point where you have to strongly consider sacrificing some of that depth to address needs elsewhere on the club. We’re entering a phase where we have to be really open-minded to that if it makes the overall outlook of the team and organization better.”
That said, the approach doesn’t seem to be one where the Cubs will select a particular player and shop them around. Rather, Epstein suggested, the organization intends to take in a wide array of possibilities — “pursue all avenues to get better” — and consider each opportunity on its own merit. Generally, he said, the team is “prepared to make some tough choices” and is interested in exploring ways to address “obvious deficits” from those areas of “real surplus.”
It’s not to difficult to guess at some of the broad strokes here. Beyond the untouchable superstars, the team has a variety of talented young position players — Albert Almora, Ian Happ, Javier Baez, Addison Russell, and Kyle Schwarber, most prominently — that overlap to some degree with other members of the roster. And the Cubs believe they have more starting-caliber players than can receive regular time on one roster. Given the need to replace starters Jake Arrieta and John Lackey, as well as to find a new closer and add some “pure strike throwers” in the bullpen (as Epstein put it), the stage could be set for some interesting trade chatter over the winter.
Outfielder Jon Jay is a free agent this winter, but he tells Madeline Kenney of the Chicago Sun-Times that his hope is to remain with the Cubs. “I love it here,” said Jay, who inked a one-year deal worth $8MM last offseason. “I cannot deny that. I absolutely love it here.”As Kenney notes, manager Joe Maddon effused praise for Jay for much of the season, highlighting his leadership and the consistent quality of his at-bats, even with two strikes. Jay was a frequent presence atop the Cubs’ lineup in the season’s final two months and ultimately finished out the year with a .296/.374/.375 batting line through 433 trips to the plate. Jay, Kenney notes, is well-liked and well-respected among his teammates. “Life isn’t about all the money and all these different things,” said Jay. “It’s about respecting people and treating people the right way. And that’s what I try to do.” The Cubs, however, do have a fairly crowded mix of outfielders with Albert Almora, Jason Heyward, Kyle Schwarber, Ian Happ and Ben Zobrist all vying for playing time in 2018.