Coaching vacancies in baseball are opening up at a rapid pace, with a handful of teams already making changes before their seasons are cold.
According to various reports, the Cardinals need a pitching coach, the Royals need a pitching coach and bench coach, the Phillies need a manager who’s likely to make wholesale changes to the staff, the Mets need a manager and pitching coach with more changes perhaps forthcoming, and the Mariners rearranged their staff like furniture.
And that’s just off the top of my head.
The Rays were in the market for bench and pitching coaches, but reportedly have already filled the positions.
The Orioles haven’t made a final decision on their staff, but potential changes are being discussed. There are no assurances that the group will remain intact, a concern to many players who don’t want coaches taking the fall for their failures.
As the starting first baseman, Chris Davis is quick to defend hitting coach Scott Coolbaugh and third base coach Bobby Dickerson, who doubles as infield instructor.
Davis knows that Coolbaugh is the lightning rod for a team that was shut out 12 times, ranked 27th in on-base percentage, 16th in runs scored, next-to-last in walks and eighth in strikeouts. He also knows that teams tend to make changes just for the sake of change.
He doesn’t want it to happen in Baltimore. He doesn’t want the Orioles’ inability to make the playoffs or post a winning record to cause certain heads to roll.
“Obviously, Cooley and I have a lot of history and we’ve been good friends for a long time, so I’m probably a little biased there, but I asked a lot of guys toward the end of the season, just what their thoughts and feelings were toward Cooley and how he was doing and just trying to get a feel for where everybody was, and unanimously it was the same message from every one of them,” Davis said.
“They love him, they love what he brings to the table as far as his personality is concerned. He works just as hard if not harder than anybody I know of and he’s always available for whatever you need, and that’s really all you can ask for from a hitting coach. I know offensively, we didn’t have a great year, but I still think we had a solid year. We had eight guys who hit 20 or more home runs, we had (28) combined home runs between two catchers, which is really, really impressive to me considering that it wasn’t like a two on, two off situation or set split time. It was very sporadic. It wasn’t a set schedule. I was really impressed by the way Weli (Welington Castillo) and Caleb (Joseph) performed this year.”
Orioles catchers batted a combined .275 to rank second in the American League.
“I don’t know what’s going to happen, but I don’t think it’s fair, I don’t think it’s right for any of our coaches to pay the price for the players,” Davis said. “I understand it’s reality, even if I don’t agree with it, but I want everyone to know how much of an impact both of those guys have had on our club the last few years.
“There’s no question in my mind, and J.J. (Hardy) and I have talked about this and he agrees, that the reason our defense has been so good is because of the work that Bobby’s done with us individually. You know Bobby. He works tirelessly day in and day out and I’m talking about early work, extra work, doing stuff the entire time during BP - whether it’s things with me at first, working on receiving the throw at second with the middle infielders while simulating the catcher, or whatever it is.”
Davis strengthened his argument for Coolbaugh, hired in December 2014, by noting Jonathan Schoop’s breakout season, Adam Jones’ consistency and Manny Machado’s adjustments in the second half. He also noted the club’s improvement versus left-handed pitching. The Orioles batted .254 to rank 10th in the majors, compared to their .234 average last year that ranked 29th.
“Our big thing going into this season was, how are we going to handle left-handed pitching, especially with Boston having (Chris) Sale, (David) Price, (Drew) Pomeranz, Eduardo (Rodriguez)?” Davis said. “New York having CC (Sabathia), and (Jordan) Montgomery was a potential candidate. (Aroldis) Chapman in the bullpen. The list goes on and on. And it’s the same way with Toronto.
“We were so bad the year before against left-handed pitching that we knew it was going to be a priority of our offense if we were going to be in the postseason picture. I feel like just looking at it from what I can recall about the season, I felt like we handled them a lot better. And we pretty much have the same group of guys.
“I thought we were a lot better on the bases, stealing bags and doing stuff like that, just being a little more aggressive and not being such a one-tool offense. We weren’t so reliant on the home run. It’s still obviously a big part of our game, but I felt over the course of the season we did better in the areas we were focused on. And a lot of that, too, and you have to take this into consideration, the position that we were in, several of those games after the first month of the season we were hitting early in the game down several runs. I realize that’s going to happen sometimes, but when it happens on such a consistent basis, it really takes the legs out of your offense.
“You talk about going out there after the second or third inning being down six or seven runs, having to play defense for most of the game already, and then going into the dugout knowing, ‘All right, man, I’m going to have to take a few pitches and work some counts, work an at-bat, just so I can give my pitcher and blow and give myself and the other guys on defense a blow.’ And as a starting pitcher, if I know that, I’m coming right after you and that’s basically what I saw every night.
“One of the things we have going for our offense is our aggressiveness. Obviously, it works against us a lot of the time, but that’s also how we can get back in a game and kind of steal the momentum. And I just thought Cooley did such a good job managing that whole thing. There was never any panic, there was never any lashing out or frustration. It was always a very calm, professional, do what you can approach, and that’s a really, really hard thing for an offense like ours to grasp, especially because we have several guys who are older and have been around a while and are accustomed to doing things in a more aggressive manner.
“Our whole offense is really based off that attack mentality, and I was so impressed with the way Cooley calmed the storm. And I know he felt the pressure. It’s a grind night in and night out and when you’re put behind the eight ball right out of the gate, it’s tough. But that’s where I feel a lot of things go unnoticed. And I don’t think that either one of those guys deserves to lose their job. I really don’t. I don’t think they’ve done anything to warrant that.
“The effort was always there, it was consistent. And at the end of the day, that’s all you can ask for, for a guy to be available and be prepared. And they were. Ultimately, they can’t go out there and do our jobs for us. We know that and they know that.”
Pitching coach Roger McDowell has received criticism from fans after the Orioles rotation posted a 5.70 ERA, the worst since the franchise moved to Baltimore in 1954. Pitchers rushed to his defense earlier in the summer and Davis backed them yesterday.
“To be fair to Roger, it’s his first year in the organization,” Davis said, “and you’re basically saying, ‘This is your job. Here’s a list of 25 possible candidates who could come under your care this year. Not only do you have to get to know them and start to build the foundation of a relationship with them, but you also have to do whatever you can to get the most out of them.’ And to do that at any level, it takes more than just one year. I mean, there are guys that it’s a little easier with, but it’s a tall task. And I think to be fair to him, you’ve got to give him at least a couple years. And I hope that’s where the organization is at, as well.”
Before Sunday’s game at Tropicana Field, Davis vowed to work hard over the winter to adjust his mechanics at the plate following a season that he deemed unacceptable, with a high rate of called third strikes that he said was “inexcusable.” He took full responsibility for his struggles and letting down fans who expected so much more out of him.
“I’ve told you guys and publicly expressed that changes are going to be made on my part,” he said yesterday.
Davis said the general consensus around the clubhouse is the players don’t want those changes to extend to the coaching staff.
“That’s how you are able to continue to win,” he said. “I realize we didn’t make the postseason this year, but we’ve been in it every other year. And to be able to do that, you have to have chemistry and a lot of it is the players, a lot of it is the environment that we created and maintained, but a lot of it, too, is it’s pretty much the same group of guys and we know what to expect from each other.
“I know the sense of urgency is probably at its highest point right now because so many guys are getting to the end of their contracts. But I don’t want anything to happen that doesn’t need to happen. I don’t want it to be where it ends up really setting us back.”