Gibbons picks his staff
Blue Jays manager John Gibbons has put almost all of the finishing touches on his coaching staff for the 2013 season. Toronto announced on Monday that DeMarlo Hale (bench coach), Chad Mottola (hitting coach), Luis Rivera (third base coach), Dwayne Murphy (first base coach) and Pete Walker (pitching coach) all agreed to deals.
The only remaining spot that’s still up for grabs is the bullpen coach. Walker will put together a list of candidates while Gibbons will do the same and eventually the two will come to a decision on who is the best choice. Gibbons will have the final say but said he’ll leave it mostly in the hands of Walker because he feels it’s important for the pitching coach and bullpen coach to have a strong working relationship.
There weren’t a lot of surprises in today’s news. Mottola had been considered the leading candidate for the hitting coach after receiving glowing reviews for his work in Triple-A Las Vegas. Over the past couple of years, we’ve heard a lot about Mottola’s tutelage through the work of Travis Snider, Anthony Gose, Adam Lind and Adeiny Hechavarria.
I realize that not all of those players came back to the Majors with noticeably improved results but it’s hard to pinpoint whether that’s the fault of the players or the coach. What I do know, is that all four spoke glowingly about Mottola’s coaching abilities and went out of their way to give credit to the former big leaguer. That can only be taken as a positive and likely played a factor in the club’s decision.
There’s a lot of speculation about whether Pat Hentgen will be considered for the bullpen coach. It’s hard to imagine he wouldn’t be considered but it’s also just as hard for me to imagine that he would be interested in the role. Hentgen recently said during an interview on the Fan590 in Toronto that he would have a tough time saying no to Gibbons because of their past relationship but that doesn’t necessarily mean he would jump at the opportunity.
Hentgen spent one season in the bullpen role while on John Farrell‘s staff in 2011. He left at the end of the year for personal reasons and a desire to spend more time with his family. I’m also a little skeptical about how much Hentgen actually enjoyed working out of the bullpen. He never told me he didn’t like it, but in conversations Hentgen did seem to speak more highly about his previous role as a roving pitching instructor in the Minor Leagues.
While serving in that capacity, Hentgen had more freedom over his own schedule and also was able to spend time with the club’s up-and-coming top prospects. In particular, Hentgen enjoys working with starting pitchers which always led me to believe he would possibly consider the pitching coach position (if offered) but would take a pass on the bullpen role.
This is admittedly mostly speculation on my part but I just don’t see Hentgen agreeing to go back into the bullpen. I think it’s more likely he stays on in his current role as a special assistant to the organization. In that capacity, Hentgen acts as a part-time instructor during Spring Training while continuing occasional work with Minor Leaguers.
Here’s what Gibbons had to say about the coaching staff during today’s conference call with reporters:
On how the Blue Jays were able to lure Hale away from the Orioles even though Baltimore offered him a contract extension at the end of the year…
“DeMarlo and I go way back. We managed against each other in the Minor Leagues in ’96 or ’97. I think it was ’96 we coached together in the Hawaiian Winter League, we roomed together for those two months down there so we got to know each other pretty good. Then of course managing against each other coming up through the Minor Leagues.
“That’s our connection right there and he’s one of the better baseball guys around. He’s intelligent, he’s always viewed as a guy who’s a possible manager and hopefully he gets his opportunity because I think he would be a darn good one. So, knowing that, he’s the perfect guy to have on the bench.
“He was highly sought after by the Blue Jays at one time, when Farrell got the job, so it was just a natural fit. Our friendship’s big, we can trust each other, I know him very well and everywhere he goes, his teams wins so if anything that’s a big factor right there in itself.”
On how he balances friendships and coaching pedigree when making decisions on the coaching staff…
“I think No. 1 is baseball resume and their ability as a coach instructor. That overrides everything. You can get to know guys over time and you know what, you don’t always have to get along and see eye-to-eye on everything. You want the best coaches … I know some of the guys, I think that’s important, the players already know a lot of these guys and they are very good coaches so there isn’t always a need to make a change.
“This is these guys’ livelihoods, you don’t always want to turn that over either. If there are guys that are highly qualified, good guys, highly respected and their doing a good job, you know what let’s keep them around. But I have the benefit of knowing most of them anyways.”
On the decision to replace Bruce ‘Papi’ Walton with Walker as the club’s pitching coach…
“First off, that was one the toughest things I’ve ever had to do because Papi and I go way back. We’re good friends, he has done a good job and he was very good to me over my years here. The way I look at Pete, I have a long history with Pete coaching and managing him over in the Mets’ system. I even had a few words for him when we first got him over here in Toronto. I think it was 2002-03 when he came over here.
“So I know him well and I’ve always followed his career, he’s always been one of my favorite guys. Knowing what kind of pitcher he was and what it took for him to get to the big leagues, the dedication, just the way he approached the game, it wasn’t an easy road for him. He was always that one guy who was always going to go above and beyond, do whatever it took to get there.
“Honestly, I always thought this guy had a chance to be a great coach some day and he can be a difference maker. Here was my opportunity to give him a chance to do that and that’s basically how all of that came out. But it was tough, Papi is a good friend and has done a very good job as well.”
On whether there’s any concerns about having a rookie hitting coach and a rookie pitching coach…
“I did look at that and you wonder how will that go over. But they’re both known. Pete was in the bullpen last year, Chad has been in the organization. It’s not like they’re unknowns but they are new to their profession and that did cross my mind. But as far as Chad, we still have Murph on the staff and Murph’s going to help out with the hitting as well. He’ll primarily be the outfield guy and handle the base running but he’s there to assist Chad and I’m sure there are a lot of guys on the team that have a lot of faith in Murph and I have no problem with them using both of these guys.
“The thing is, after talking with both of them, they’re happy to work as a tandem and bottom line is we want guys that produce. Murph knows the inside out of these guys so I told him not to hesitate to share what you know and what these guys might need. He’s perfectly fine with it, Chad’s perfectly fine it. This also allows Murph, he’s a six-time Gold Glover, he’s going to take over the outfield for us and that’s big. We’re able to utilize both of these guys now. I don’t think it will be a problem, they’re both highly respected that’s for sure.”
On whether these decisions were ultimately made by Gibbons or by Alex Anthopoulos…
“I made all of the decisions. I bounced some things off him, I’d ask him about the different coaches but he said, ‘Hey this is your baby. Go for it.’ Like I said earlier, I’m big on continuity. They had a number of injuries last year that I think hurt the ballclub and the tough record, the manager left, so it wasn’t necessarily people weren’t doing their jobs and it was a total collapse, there were some things that were involved.
“These guys have good reputations, they do a good job, they’re known to do a good job. I was looking for a little continuity, that way there’s not so much turnover and it’s not a big shock to all of the players. But I did, I had the final say. Alex was adamant about that and I told him I think it’s important any time you can promote within the organization I think it does wonders for morale down at the bottom because it gives everybody a feeling they have a shot some day. But in the end he said pick the guys you want, I’ll give you my input, but in the end I have to live and die with it.”
On whether the club is waiting for an answer from someone on the bullpen coach role…
“I told Pete, I said listen, ‘I think it’s very important that the pitching coach and the bullpen coach work together.’ They’ve got all of those guys and they have to make them work. I’m getting some input from him, I told him to come up with some names that he might like. I’ll throw some names at him. To me, it doesn’t necessarily have to be an ex-pitcher to hold that position, it could be anyone else as long as it works well with Pete.”
On whether this is more ‘his’ staff than when he took over in 2004…
“When I took over at the end of ’04, Butter was in place, Gil Patterson was the pitching coach and then, let’s see, how many years ago was that? You guys expect me to remember all of that? (laughs) That staff was pretty much in place and this one he said,’Hey come up with some names of guys you like. You have to make it work, we’re putting together a good team right here, we have to make it work.’ So he’s giving me a little bit more stake in that. But like I said, I’ve always been big on continuity and rewarding guys in the organization if they’re good coaches and good instructors and that’s what we have here.”
On the loss of Brian Butterfield….
“Butter’s leaving, that’s a big loss, there’s no question about it. Personally, I don’t think there’s a better coach in baseball than Butter. But he moved on and I expect Luis to be very, very good over there. I don’t know Luis very well but I’ve heard some great things and I think he’ll do fine. He’s a good baseball man, good infield instructor and Butter had nothing but praise for the guy. There’s no question that Butter’s a big loss.”
On whether Hale or Rivera will be in charge of the infielders…
“Luis will do that. DeMarlo will oversee everything, he’ll keep an eye on everything. If somebody needs help here and there, he’ll do that. There’s lots to do with that bench coach job, especially going into Spring Training, that’s when a lot of the work is done. When we get into the season, he’ll be very valuable, he can dabble in a lot of different things.”
On who will be in charge of Spring Training and how important it was to have Rivera return because of his ability to speak Spanish in a diverse clubhouse….
“DeMarlo will do all the Spring Training. As far as the latin guy, Luis’ here anyways. But, yeah I think that’s important. Most of them all speak English but it never hurts to have a guy in case you get into an in depth conversation, some guys may struggle with English like I do. (laughs). But that never hurts.”