Tigers begin search for new pitching coach
DETROIT -- The Tigers have a challenging offseason ahead. Their first challenge won't involve anyone who throws a pitch, but has a major impact on those who do.
With pitching coach Jeff Jones' retirement, the Tigers have a big void to fill. Considering the challenge ahead in rebuilding the Tigers' pitching staff, who fills the void is potentially one of their biggest decisions ahead. Considering manager Brad Ausmus and the rest of the coaches are all signed through next season, it could also be a tricky spot to fill.
The Tigers have been in this situation before. The last time Detroit had to look for a pitching coach, it was replacing Chuck Hernandez after the 2008 season while Jim Leyland was under contract as manager for only one more year. They hired Rick Knapp, who had been the Twins' longtime Minor League pitching coordinator. Knapp played a big role in the best season of Edwin Jackson's career, and aided the development of Justin Verlander and Rick Porcello alongside then-bullpen coach Jones before Jones replaced him midway through the 2011 season.
Though Leyland had his say in the hire, Knapp was a Dave Dombrowski find. The Tigers president/general manager at the time had surveyed people around baseball looking for up-and-coming candidates, and received a recommendation on Knapp. It was a relatively rare move, adding a coach to Leyland's staff with whom Leyland hadn't previously worked, especially going into that season.
Ausmus' coaches are a blend of people he already knew -- such as Gene Lamont, Dave Clark, Wally Joyner and Matt Martin -- with others who were recommended, notably Omar Vizquel. In the wake of Jones' retirement this week, Ausmus was putting together a list of candidates as team officials readied for the next round of organizational meetings.
One known candidate is Tigers Minor League pitching coordinator A.J. Sager, who like Jones worked his way up the organizational ladder and has worked with several pitchers on Detroit's staff. Outside the organization, Ausmus has several options whether he opts for familiarity or not.
One potential option with close ties to Jones is Steve McCatty, who was Detroit's pitching coach in 2002 before earning high regard as Nationals pitching coach the past seven seasons while working with Stephen Strasburg and Jordan Zimmermann, among others. McCatty is a friend of Jones and was raised in the area. He still has a home in suburban Detroit, making this an appealing opening for him.
Other pitching coaches who became available since season's end include Mike Butcher (formerly with Angels), Mike Harkey (D-backs), Rick Kranitz (Brewers) and Darren Balsley (Padres). Mike Maddux's contract with Texas expires at the end of the month, making him a potentially coveted coach around baseball, but he might command a multi-year contract. Andy Hawkins resigned as Rangers bullpen coach, reportedly to pursue pitching coach opportunities.
Ausmus was in the front office in San Diego while Balsley was pitching coach. Padres bullpen coach Willie Blair is also available; the former Tigers 16-game winner was a teammate of Ausmus in Detroit and San Diego. Bud Black, who was Angels pitching coach before he became Padres manager, is out there, too, though he's in the running for managerial jobs.
Doug Brocail was an Ausmus teammate in Detroit, San Diego and Houston before serving as Astros pitching coach from mid-2011 through 2013. Brocail spent this past season as pitching coach at Double-A Corpus Christi.
Andrew Lorraine, who served as pitching coach under Ausmus for Team Israel in the most recent World Baseball Classic, just finished his sixth season as a pitching coach in the Mariners organization, and is currently coaching in winter ball with Cardenales de Lara in the Venezuelan League.