Baseball’s free agent season begins in less than 12 hours and the Phillies are expected to be players this winter after an uncharacteristically quiet offseason a year ago (although they did spent $144 million on soon-to-be-free agent Cole Hamels two months before the 2012 season ended).
The Phillies have several needs, most notably help in the middle of the rotation and in reliable, productive outfielders.
But the Phils also had a vacancy on their bench that needs to be addressed. Five weeks after firing Rich Dubee, the Phillies still need to find his replacement as the team’s pitching coach.
It’s worth wondering if they’re looking in the right places.
Bryan Price was reportedly their top choice. But he never became available after the Cincinnati Reds promoted Price from major league pitching coach to major league manager, replacing Dusty Baker.
Price had previously worked as Seattle’s pitching coach when Pat Gillick was the Mariners general manager; he also worked as a consultant with the Phillies in 2009.
Various reports this weekend had the Phils ready to offer Atlanta Braves pitching coach Roger McDowell the job. But two days after his contract in Atlanta expired, McDowell re-signed with the Braves.
McDowell played for the Phillies in parts of three seasons, from 1989-91. Philadelphia fans probably know him best, however, for being a part of the trade that sent Juan Samuel to the Mets and brought Lenny Dykstra to Philadelphia.
At least judging from the first two names mentioned here, the Phillies prefer for their pitching coach to have previous experience as a major league pitching coach. And, it helps to have a history with the Phillies.
The first preference makes a good deal of sense, although every successful coach has to start somewhere (Ryne Sandberg, for example, didn’t have any major league managing experience prior to August).
The second part – that the candidate have a history with the Phillies – may not be accurate or true. But it is interesting that the Phillies, much like their NHL neighbors across Pattison Avenue, usually enjoy nothing more than bringing their own people back to Philadelphia.
The Flyers coach and general manager both played for the team; ditto the Phillies.
The Flyers biggest move this offseason was arguably bringing Ron Hextall back to the front office, as the team’s assistant GM, after he had success with the Los Angeles Kings in the same role. The Flyers most recent personnel move was to trade for Steve Downie, who they drafted in the first round of the NHL draft in 2005.
The Phillies, meanwhile, hired two coaches last month who have spent considerable time in the organization in Larry Bowa and Pete Mackanin. The coaching staff also includes Juan Samuel while both Dallas Green and Ed Wade have jobs in the front office. The last time they spent more than $50 million on a free agent came when they brought Cliff Lee back to South Philly.
All of those people are excellent baseball man. But it also can’t hurt to hire someone with a fresh, different approach and perspective occasionally.
Perhaps Jim Benedict, then, would be an ideal candidate. According to CSNPhilly.com, Benedict, the Pittsburgh Pirates minor league pitching coordinator, interviewed with the Phillies.
Pittsburgh’s pitching staff, which included several players who worked under Benedict, had the third best ERA in baseball this season. Benedict has never been a major league pitching coach.
But perhaps it’s just as important to have a pitching coach adept at handling young, developing arms than one who has sat on a big league bench before.
In case you haven’t noticed, the Phillies have relied almost exclusively on young relievers who have come up through their minor league system in the last two seasons. Although guys like Jake Diekman show promise, the results have been less than encouraging. For one, Phillipe Aumont has been unable to flourish under the Phillies direction despite having considerable talent in his right arm.
The Phillies acknowledged this problem – not getting the most out of young pitching talent or not having them hardened and ready for the big leagues, or both – when they fired minor league pitching coordinator Gorman Heimueller in August. He was replaced with Carlos Arroyo, who has been an instructor in the Phillies minor league system for 30 years.
But, again, perhaps it’s a good idea to bring in someone with a fresh perspective. At least two teams have already gone that route in their own pitching coach hires, as noted by Peter Gammons.
At least part of the reason the Braves and Cardinals have been more successful than the Phillies in the last two seasons was because both pitching staffs were littered with young arms capable of getting major league hitters out.
Finding those arms through amateur scouting and the draft is important, of course. But getting the most out of that talent, and getting them ready for the big leagues, is also vital.
The Orioles and Astros were wise to poach Atlanta and St. Louis’s minor league pitching staffs. Perhaps the Phillies will go the same route with Benedict.