The San Francisco Giants’ journey to an organizational turnaround started with a bang yesterday with news that five members of the coaching staff – pitching coach Dave Righetti, bullpen coach Mark Gardner, assistant hitting coach Steve Decker, bench coach Ron Wotus, and hitting coach Hensley Meulens, all have been reassigned to different positions within the organization. Righetti will join Felipe Alou, Jack Hiatt, and Randy Winn as a Special Assistant to the General Manager, while Decker will serve as a Special Assistant to Baseball Operations, presumably to work under Brian Sabean. Gardner, Wotus, and Meulens’ roles have yet to be determined, however as Bob Nightengale has reported, Meulens will almost assuredly stay on the Giants coaching staff in some capacity.
All of this comes a day after former Giants infielder and current bench coach for the St. Louis Cardinals, David Bell, announced that he has accepted a position as the vice president of player development for the Giants, and will work under the direction of current GM Bobby Evans.
With all this movement across the front office and coaching staff, it’s fair to wonder, how does this impact the 2018 Giants, and the future of the organization?
Generally speaking, there are two major takeaways (for me) from the direction established by the Giants brass…
1) The Giants are not expecting to make significant offseason acquisitions to bolster their roster.
In a conference call following the announcement of the coaching changes, Giants GM Bobby Evans said “Changes sometimes are needed as much for the sake of that new voice as anything, and I think that was really the priority here…In all the years we’ve done this, we’ve tried to be open-minded. We’ve made changes even in years we had success, but it does raise the level of attention. We always concentrate on making changes that will keep pushing our guys with coaches that will have different perspectives and find ways to get most out of our players.”
While on the surface, these statements may not appear to reveal anything about the current roster, it screams (to me) that the front office believes last years’ issues we’re more indicative of the coaching staff’s inability to maximize player performance, rather than the player’s overall talent-level and/or ability.
I’m certainly not here to debate whether the moves were right or wrong, I’ll leave others to do that. However, the reality is that with a 64-98 record, Giants needed to change something, and due to the $166,377,777 they already have committed (2nd highest in MLB) to the 2018 roster, their ability to aggressively approach free agency and drastically change their on-field product, simply wasn’t realistic.
The proof of their commitment to “voice” over overhaul is reflected in how the Giants appear to be approaching their now-vacant hitting coach position. With both Steve Decker and Hensley Meulens re-assigned, the Giants have apparently interviewed current Red Sox, and former A’s hitting instructor, Chili Davis. Davis is highly regarded throughout baseball due to his successes both as a player, and as a coach. However, if you dive into the Red Sox’s offensive performance over the last 3 seasons (since Davis served as the Red Sox hitting coach), it becomes clear that Davis and Meulens share more similarities than differences in regards to their offensive approach and philosophies, with Davis being somewhat more effective due to the superior talent he gets to work with.
In 2017, the Red Sox finished 6th in the American League in runs scored and RBI’s, and 5th in on-base percentage, all the while hitting the fewest homeruns in the AL (168). Based on the Giants’ offensive shortcomings, it would be logical to assume the Giants would prefer to look to find a hitting coach who could build upon their power-potential and help them play catch-up to the rest of the league in terms of run-production. However, in finding a coach who operates in a similar fashion and prioritizes a comparable offensive philosophy, it’s clear the Giants are sticking with what they feel is best given their current group of players. Consistent to what Evans is suggesting, Davis wouldn’t necessarily be an upgrade, instead, he would just be different. Had Evans’ goal been to get involved in the league-wide power surge, the Giants would pursue someone like the Nationals’ Rich Schu or the Mets’ Kevin Long – both of whom will likely be looking for work as their current managers have been fired.
In my opinion, whichever direction they decide to go, finding a new hitting coach isn’t likely to bring significant change, and a hitting coach like Rick Schu is a perfect example of that. Schu, who led the NL’s 2nd best offense in 2017, was fired in 2009 by the Diamondbacks, and then again by the Nationals as recently as 2015. Schu was then hired back on by Dusty Baker in 2016, and is now regarded as one of baseball’s elite hitting coaches, due in large to the fact that he gets to work with premier offensive players (and former All-Stars) such as Bryce Harper, Ryan Zimmerman, Daniel Murphy, Anthony Rendon, Trea Turner, Adam Lind, Matt Weiters, and Jayson Werth, just to name a few.
Schu did not forget how to coach back when he was fired, nor did he all of the sudden bring some new, innovative approach to the Nationals this time around. Instead, it was the caliber of player Schu was able to work with that allowed him to go from a journeyman coach, to one of the best in the game. In my opinion, if the Giants are to continue with the same offensive core, fans shouldn’t expect a much of a different result as Davis, or whoever the Giants hire, will still be forced to work with the same offensive limitations that has plagued them for multiple seasons.
So, if these coaching moves don’t necessarily mean the Giants are going to improve, then why do them?
This brings me to my 2nd takeaway from the Giants front office – Bruce Bochy is officially on the hot-seat. With Bobby Evans maintaining that he wants a new “voice”, there’s no way to truly achieve that while holding onto the person who sets the tone. I don’t think the Giants necessarily want to get rid of Bochy, which is why all of these subsequent moves are happening. However, if the Giants struggle once again next season, I believe that will be Bochy’s last as the Giants manager.
As I have maintained throughout the 2nd half of the season, the Giants aren’t immune to the cycles of sports. If you look at this year’s 10 playoff teams – the Red Sox, Yankees, Indians, Twins, Astros, Nationals, Cubs, Dodgers, Diamondbacks, and Rockies – all have been at the bottom of their respective divisions at least once since the Giants won their 1st world championship back in 2010. However, through scouting, player development, and creativity in front office & player personnel, all have found their way back into the playoff picture, and all appear to be in good shape for the foreseeable future.
At this point, as much as the front office wants to stress that this is a “reload”, not a “rebuild”, I think the writing on the wall is fairly clear. The Giants aren’t expecting a roster overhaul, meaning that they’re hinging the success (or failure) to their core, and hoping that they perform closer to their career averages than their 2017 season. If that doesn’t happen, expect the Giants to be looking for a new manager in 2018, and therefore officially closing the book on the most decorated 10-year run in Giants franchise history.