The St. Louis Cardinals hired Mike Maddux on Thursday to be their pitching coach. His new contract in St. Louis assured another veteran voice from the Washington Nationals coaching staff of the last two seasons is out.
Maddux was a longshot to return. He signed a two-year contract in in 2016, meticulously guided the Nationals staff to a 3.70 ERA during the next two seasons, third-best in the National League, then had his contract expire, like the rest of the staff. When it was announced that former manager Dusty Baker would not return, Maddux became lumped in with the list of possibilities to replace him. That was unlikely since Maddux has never held a managerial position in his life, and is one of the best pitching coaches in the league.
Since he was hired independent of Baker, there was also a chance that Maddux could return to work for the new Nationals manager. Though, that chance was low, too. Washington general manager Mike Rizzo said the new Nationals manager would hire his staff, unlike when Baker was handed a pitching coach, a hitting coach and a third base coach after the Nationals turned the hiring process complicated by low-balling Bud Black and shifting to Baker.
So, there was no reason for Maddux to wait and see if the new manager wanted him to return. He is among the most-coveted coaches in the league. That he was hired already shows the demand for his services. Why would he pause to see if the Nationals’ new manager, whomever that was and whenever that occurred, wanted him? St. Louis wanted him now. He signed. Which means Washington is assured of missing this particular tactical, organized, experienced coach. Though, some pitchers will be happy they no longer have to chart games in the dugout on the days they are not pitching, a Maddux requirement.
Maddux was given expansive reign over the pitching staff. When Baker fielded questions about pitchers, he, at times, did not have an answer because he had not yet talked to Maddux.
Maddux wasn’t just influential in the day-to-day scheduling and management of the staff. He also influenced when a pitcher was removed. He arguably had more control over the pitching staff than any pitching coach in the league.
Options for the Nationals’ third pitching coach in four seasons — they are pursuing their third manager in the same amount of time — include Chris Bosio, most recently with the Chicago Cubs, former Tampa Bay pitching coach Jim Hickey and former San Francisco pitching coach Dave Righetti.
First, Washington needs to discover yet another new manager. The New York Yankees announced Thursday that Joe Girardi will not return despite a decade of success in the Bronx, making him the third managers this year to make the playoffs but not be brought back. That decision immediately vaulted Girardi to the top of the Nationals’ what-if list put together by outside observers. He’s experienced, a seeming prerequisite for a team that said Baker was not retained because “winning division titles is not enough.” He is also accustomed to such egotistical stances after spending 10 years in New York.
Girardo would also fit in “The Pivot.” This is a traditional 180-degree maneuver that many pro sports teams use when changing managers. Had a large personality that didn’t accomplish what you wanted? Bring in the gruff, no-nonsense type. The Nationals have employed this approach multiple times. They went from hard-nosed Jim Riggleman to patriarchal Davey Johnson to rigid Matt Williams to flamboyant Dusty Baker. Following Baker with Girardi would mean bringing in an experienced version of a personality similar to that of Williams, the latter of which would argue to not let small things “rent space in our brain” among other curious statements.
However, Girardi is expensive. Hiring him near a rate of his last job — $4 million annually — would run counter to the standard approach from the Lerner family when selecting a manager. Baker made half that; Williams, who was a rookie manager, less.
Whomever takes over will know that they have defensive stalwarts at third base and in center field. Thursday, Nationals third baseman Anthony Rendon and center fielder Michael A. Taylor were named Gold Glove finalists at their respective positions. The winner’s will be announced Nov. 7.
Neither has won the award prior, and the nominations prompt two thoughts: It reminds how unlikely Rendon’s crucial sixth-inning error in Game 1 of the National League Division Series was. Taylor’s nomination speaks to the possible arrangement of the outfield next season. Adam Eaton was acquired in a trade for two high-end prospects last offseason to play center field. He tore the anterior cruciate ligament in his left knee April 28, ending his season. That gave Taylor a chance that he maximized and may lead to Eaton shifting to left field next season, depleting some of his initial value in the trade.
Where those two play will be decided by a man yet to be hired. Who will be overseeing the pitcher in front of them also has to be determined following Maddux’s departure. So far, it’s a regular winter in Washington.
• Todd Dybas can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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