First off, I apologize for not having an article up the past two days. I was at a resort in Wisconsin with my wife. We had a nice relaxing weekend. I played 3rd class golf on a world class golf course and my wife did the spa thing. I was completely disconnected. I did not even see a computer until late last night.
We're back in Chicago but we'll be off again early tomorrow morning. This time we'll be off to Arizona to visit some friends and catch some baseball. The Arizona Fall League opens tomorrow with the Mesa Solar Sox (the team with the Cubs players on it) opening up the season against Salt River. I can't wait and I'll report as often as I can from there. I'm also planning to check out some instructional league play. After that, I'll get to work on some prospect lists.
Anyway, on with the item for today...
We know that the Cubs let Pat Listach go and the Cubs will need to replace him this offseason. My mind, however, is on the hitting coach situation. Right now the person filling that role is James Rowson and he's done an admirable role coming into a tough situation as an interim coach. It was a team with some bad habits at the plate but we did see progress toward the end of the year, particularly with Starlin Castro and Welington Castillo. He also worked on retooling Brett Jackson's swing, but success on that isn't going to happen overnight, if at all. If Rowson isn't retained as hitting coach, I would like to see him retained in some capacity, perhaps to his old role as a minor league hitting instructor.
The Cubs haven't taken the interim label off of Rowson yet, so the feeling here is that the Cubs will explore what's available out there. The name that stands out is Dave Magadan. Magadan has been the hitting coach of the Boston Red Sox and with the situation suddenly unstable in Beantown, he may become available this offseason.
Technically Magadan is still under contract. The guaranteed portion ran out after this season but he does have an option year remaining. That option is held by the Red Sox.
The team will once again undergo a managerial search and Magadan's fate is uncertain. If the search becomes protracted this year, that would leave him twisting in the wind until that new manager is hired. He is to speak with GM Ben Cherington over the next few days and it's entirely possible he may ask that team not pick up his option. And while he is popular with the players and has been successful with the Red Sox, it's also entirely possible that Cherington may oblige him on that, knowing he can't guarantee Magadan's job security. That fate will be decided by whomever is hired as manager. Cherington himself said that new manager will "have a strong voice" in the decision.
Magadan went through this same scenario last year. The Red Sox had a long, muddled search before finally deciding on Bobby Valentine, who lasted just one year. Magadan agreed to stay on with the Red Sox, saying "he was under contract". It was curious to me at the time. Would he have stayed if he was not under contract? We may get a chance to find out if the Red Sox make him a free agent this offseason.
When he was a player, Magadan had a disciplined approach as a hitter and that has translated to his philosophy as a hitting coach. His team ranked first in both OBP and OPS as recently as 2011. They also finished first in OPS in 2010 and in the top 3 in every year since 2007 when Magadan was hired. Even in a frustating, confused season for the Red Sox, they still managed to finish 11th in OPS in 2012.
Some may question how much coaches can make a difference but we see it all the time. We've seen it with Dave McKay here this season. Dave Duncan and Don Cooper always seem to take on successful reclamation projects on the mound. We've even seen a hitting coach here in Chicago transform a team as recently as 5 years ago. Gerald Perry took over as the Cubs hitting coach under Lou Piniella in 2007 and the team immediately jumped from 29th to 18th in OBP in his first year and then finished 2nd in OBP in 2008 (behind, who else? Dave Magadan's Red Sox). The Cubs also finished 3rd in OPS and 1st in the NL en route to the division championship. Unfortunately, when the Cubs got off to a slow start in 2009, Perry was the fall guy and got the axe.
Magadan, of course, is very familiar with the Cubs current front office, though he did not cross paths with manager Dale Sveum, who left the Red Sox after the 2005 season. The Red Sox expect to make a decision quickly and if Magadan becomes a free agent, I expect the Cubs to make a hard push to try and add him to their staff.