Crew eyes pitching coach as Johnson departs

October 31st, 2018
PHOENIX, AZ - FEBRUARY 22: Derek Johnson #36 of the Milwaukee Brewers poses during Photo Day on Thursday, February 22, 2018 at Maryvale Baseball Park in Phoenix, Arizona. (Photo by Dave Durochik/MLB Photos via Getty Images) David Durochik/Getty Images

MILWAUKEE -- The Brewers sustained a stunning departure on Wednesday, and it wasn't a player heading into free agency. Highly-regarded pitching coach Derek Johnson left the organization for a job elsewhere, GM David Stearns confirmed.

A source confirmed that Johnson will be the new pitching coach for the Reds. MLB Network insider Ken Rosenthal was first to report the hiring.

"Obviously, we value DJ. DJ did a tremendous job with us, and helped us a lot over the last three years," Stearns said. "Sometimes this happens. As an organization has success, other teams take notice and when they get an opportunity, are going to go after some of your people.

"While you never like losing good people, you also recognize that coaches, front-office people, everyone needs to do what is right for them to move their careers forward. I'm sure over the years, if we continue to have some level of success, we'll see more of this. And we'll see some of it in the front office as well."

It was the third departure from manager Craig Counsell's coaching staff since the end of the season. Hitting coach Darnell Coles resigned and was introduced on Wednesday as the hitting coach for the D-backs. The Brewers opted not to renew bullpen coach Lee Tunnell's contract.

Johnson, who made his name in baseball as the pitching coach at Vanderbilt University before a stint in the Cubs' Minor League system, was hired by the Brewers in November 2015. The club's staff exceeded expectations under his watch, ranking eighth of the 30 MLB teams with a 3.94 ERA over the past three seasons without the sort of ace pitchers that dot the rest of the top 10.

Stearns said he had "extensive" negotiations with Johnson over the past week to retain him, and while Stearns adhered to his long-held policy of not commenting on contracts for coaches and front-office officials, that typically means extending a multi-year offer to a coach. Even in an era of lucrative long-term contracts for GMs, managers and players, most Major League coaches are employed year by year.

The Reds, who are rebuilding their staff under new manager David Bell, appear to have beat the Brewers' offer -- perhaps by a significant margin.

"Look, we try to compensate fairly across the board, and ultimately, we understand this is a competitive market," Stearns said. "We understand we have good people, and we leave it to each person in a situation like this to decide what's best for his or her family."

Stearns pushed back against the optics of Coles and Johnson opting to leave high-profile coaching posts for the same jobs with other teams. There is no internal strife on the Brewers' staff, Stearns said.

"I understand why you would ask that, and the thought process. I don't sense that that's the case," the GM said. "I think we had, and will have going forward, a really solid culture in our clubhouse. I think Craig does an outstanding job leading our coaching staff, and that all of those guys enjoyed working together and came together as a really solid team. So I understand the question, but in this case, I don't see that."

The Brewers were already in the process of assembling a list of potential replacements, and the club had something of a head start because it was already in the market for a bullpen coach.

"We'll take our time with the process and make sure we find the right guy," Stearns said.