The Orioles now have three spots open on Buck Showalter’s 2017 staff: pitching coach, bullpen coach and assistant hitting coach.
Technically, only bench coach John Russell is signed through next season – most of the coaches’ contracts expired Oct. 31. But Showalter has expressed confidence that the others will be back. That includes base coaches Wayne Kirby and Bobby Dickerson and hitting coach Scott Coolbaugh.
Coaches are often under-the-radar types, and the best ones usually go unnoticed. But Showalter really has had some excellent lieutenants over the years.
So piecing together the 2017 staff is something that’s a priority for Showalter and executive vice president Dan Duquette.
“We’re working on assembling our coaching staff for next year,” Duquette said Thursday. “We’re going to be interviewing some candidates for pitching coach and bullpen coach and be assembling our staff for next season.”
Former Atlanta Braves pitching coach Roger McDowell, 55, is a candidate and the Orioles have interviewed a couple others.
If the organization decides to hire internally, Double-A Bowie pitching coach Alan Mills, a former Orioles’ reliever, may be the leading candidate for one of the open spots previously held by Dave Wallace and Dom Chiti. Triple-A pitching coach Mike Griffin is also well thought-of within the organization.
Wallace, 69, left at season’s end because he no longer wanted the daily grind and travel of a big-league season. Chiti’s contract expired Monday and he signed a two-year deal this week with the Atlanta Braves to be that organization’s Director of Pitching, overseeing the minor-league pitchers and assisting with the majors’ staff. Wallace has signed on to join Chiti in Atlanta as a roving instructor and advisor.
Obviously, losing both creates a big hole in the continuity of Showalter’s staff. He’s made at least one addition every offseason he’s been with the club, but the majority of the coaches on his staff had been with him for at least two-to-three years.
If history is any indicator, his new hires will be experienced baseball men – usually in their late-40s to mid-60s – who have held similar jobs in the past. He’s a big believer in coaches that have paid their dues in the minors and have experience in player development departments.
Showalter and Duquette have countless connections throughout the game, so there likely will be no shortage of qualified candidates to discuss.
It probably would behoove the club to move quickly, though. Free agency is about to start in earnest next week and Duquette has said the club will continue to look to improve its pitching staff. Having a pitching coach hired – especially one with a track record – could be key to the recruitment effort if the Orioles, indeed, are looking to add arms via free agency.
Also, possibly the most pressing issue facing Duquette in terms of contract extensions is right-hander Chris Tillman, the club’s top pitcher who will be a free agent after 2017 (most of the club’s core isn’t eligible for free agency until after 2018).
These next few months will be instrumental in trying to lock up Tillman, and surely he’ll want to see what the club does with its pitching coaches before signing on long-term.
The other hire isn’t as high-profile. Mark Quinn, brought in before this season to be the assistant hitting coach to Coolbaugh, will not return in 2017, as first reported by MASNsports.com.
So, Showalter and company – vice president Brady Anderson has also been involved in hiring, especially when it comes to hitting coaches – will have to replace Quinn. That process should also begin soon.
Although some fans have called for the firing of Coolbaugh due to the one-dimensional approach of the offense – lots of homers, lots of unproductive outs — it would be surprising to see that happen. Coolbaugh has received high marks from his offensive players and, frankly, can only do so much with a lineup that is heavy on sluggers with limited on-base capabilities.
Besides, having to replace four coaches in one offseason would seem to be a daunting task – and an unnecessary one at this point.
Three new hires is plenty.