Bucs' focus turns to Shelton's coaching staff

December 7th, 2019

PITTSBURGH -- Pirates general manager Ben Cherington sat down next to Derek Shelton inside the press conference room at PNC Park, faced a crowd of reporters and, before beginning management’s third media availability in roughly five weeks, quietly joked, “We’ll do this, hopefully, less regularly.”

Pittsburgh has a new president, Travis Williams, and a day after hiring assistant GM Steve Sanders, Cherington officially introduced Shelton as the Bucs’ newest manager on a snowy Wednesday morning along the Allegheny River. But the Pirates aren’t done reshaping their leadership group quite yet.

With Shelton in place, the Pirates must finalize their Major League coaching staff. Shelton said that will be the “most important” task ahead of him, along with getting to know Pittsburgh’s players. The coaching search and hiring process could continue into next week’s Winter Meetings in San Diego, Cherington said, but the club made some staffing decisions just ahead of it.

On Saturday, the Pirates hired Don Kelly as their bench coach. Kelly was previously the Astros bench coach in 2019, and he is a former Pirate and a native of Mt. Lebanon, Pa. -- a suburb of Pittsburgh. The club also announced it will retain hitting coach Rick Eckstein, third-base coach Joey Cora and assistant pitching coach Justin Meccage.

Now, the Pirates need to hire a pitching coach and an assistant hitting coach. Those openings were created when former GM Neal Huntington dismissed Ray Searage on Oct. 3 and when Jacob Cruz left to join the Brewers’ coaching staff last month. Cherington and Shelton must also decide the fate of some of the remaining coaches from last year’s staff, including bullpen coach Euclides Rojas, first-base coach Kimera Bartee and coach Dave Jauss.

In October, the Pirates announced that those coaches were “candidates to return” in 2020, but their statuses were left up in the air while the Bucs replaced their GM and eventually hired Shelton. At least a few of them could remain in place to create some continuity during this transition phase.

“Not ready to announce anything, but I would say Derek and I are confident there will be coaches who were on staff last year who will be part of the staff in 2020,” Cherington said. “We’re working through that as quickly as we can. There will be some external additions, also, I would be confident in saying. We’ll share information as soon as we have it.”

Shelton said Cherington’s list of contacts in the industry gives the Pirates “a good start” toward hiring qualified candidates. Eckstein seems likely to stay, given the success he had last season and his prior working relationship with Shelton during their time in the Twins organization.

There may not be significant turnover in the front office this winter, either, aside from replacing Kyle Stark with Sanders. Assistant GM Kevan Graves will remain in his role, as Cherington previously stated. Senior director of Minor League operations Larry Broadway and senior director of amateur scouting Joe DelliCarri are expected to stay on board as well.

Wanted: Catchers
The Pirates put themselves in the market for at least one catcher when they non-tendered Elias Díaz on Monday, and Cherington confirmed on Wednesday that they will “look at free agency and trade opportunities” this offseason to add help behind the plate.

Catcher , who improved his power at the plate and his pitch-framing behind the dish this year, is going to be part of the mix. Stallings is currently the only catcher on Pittsburgh’s 40-man roster, and the club has no backstops among its top 30 prospects, according to MLB Pipeline.

Cherington, whose attention has been devoted to evaluating the front office and finding a manager, couldn’t yet say whether Stallings will be the starter, a backup or in some sort of time-share situation.

“We’re really excited that Jacob’s here, and he made some great strides last year,” Cherington said. “Everything I’ve heard is that he is interested in a lot of things that we would care about. … I’m sure we’ll have more information on what the possibilities are over the next 10 days and throughout the offseason. I think we’d be focused on adding to that position in some form.

“I think we want to look at what all the opportunities are, look at the cost of those opportunities, and figure out what makes the best sense for the Pirates. It’s a really important position, and I think in most cases, the teams that are really getting a lot out of the position are getting it from two guys, if not three. Jacob has a chance to be a really important part of that, but we need to add to it.”

Cherington ‘appreciated’ Marte’s words
Cherington took no issue with the comments center fielder made last week when asked in the Dominican Republic about potentially being traded to the Mets. Marte indicated that, if he’s traded, he would like to play for a team competing for the World Series, and he doesn’t feel the Pirates are currently in that category coming off a 93-loss season.

“Really, I appreciated what he said in the sense of where it came from. I don’t know Starling personally, obviously. I have a lot of respect for him as a player,” Cherington said. “That he wants to be part of a winning team makes perfect sense to me. I would want players to feel that way. I’d be excited that we have a lot of players who want that and want to be a part of that.

“I look forward to getting to know Starling. He’s a really good player, and he would help our team win. That’s what we’re focused on.”