The White Sox were the first to fill their vacated manager position, unless you think that Alex Cora resuming his leadership of the Red Sox was but a mere formality. While Boston’s front office and its former manager didn’t exactly rush into each other’s arms at first sight, it didn’t appear to be much of a process, either.
The Tigers only had to wait on one of the Sox to land their manager. From there, they seemed to have the next thousand picks in this particular draft. After the White Sox chose Tony La Russa, the Tigers opted for A.J. Hinch, who helped lure Chris Fetter out of his cushy job at Michigan to serve as Detroit’s new pitching coach, with Juan Nieves handling assistant pitching coach duties.
But they weren’t done! On Saturday, the Tigers rounded out their entire coaching staff. Former Dodgers first-base coach George Lombard is now Detroit’s bench coach, which Al Avila probably feels good about considering the Tigers interviewed Lombard for the manager’s chair. Chip Hale goes from coaching third base for the Washington to coaching third base for Detroit.
And hitting especially close to home, the Tigers chose White Sox assistant hitting coach Scott Coolbaugh to be their lead hitting coach.
It’s odd that a direct hire from the White Sox coaching staff doesn’t trigger as much alternate-universe hypothesizing as a guy the White Sox didn’t even interview. Had the White Sox offered Hinch the job, this story from The Athletic’s Cody Stavenhagen suggested he might’ve had the juice to lure Fetter to Chicago, even if a job with the Tigers wouldn’t have required his family to relocate from Ann Arbor.
But on the day Hinch arrived in Detroit for the first steps in what became a rapid, fateful hiring process, Fetter sent his old friend a text message. Per Fetter, it went something like this: “Hey, welcome to Michigan, I’m excited if this is a possibility for you to be in Detroit.” […]
Over the next week, Fetter said, he and Hinch were on the phone three or four times each day. From Hinch’s perspective, the interview process was more of a recruitment. Fetter was the Tigers’ top target. Avila, Hinch and the rest of the Tigers’ brass laid out a blueprint, highlighting not only the Tigers’ war chest of talented young pitchers but also a plan for how they could create a robust pitching infrastructure.
Of course, it’d be a lot easier to envision what La Russa and the White Sox have in mind for their own vision of the next steps, but all we know is that Don Cooper is gone, Nick Capra isn’t coming back, and now Coolbaugh is in Detroit.
The Coolbaugh move is intriguing, if only because he really wasn’t mentioned at all during the White Sox’s offensive surge. That’s not necessarily his fault. Assistant hitting coaches never really get press — how much did we hear about Greg Sparks? — but also working against Coolbaugh’s profile was the pandemic, which closed clubhouses and prevented anybody from getting to know him particularly well.
If I had to draw a conclusion, it seems to point to the safety of Frank Menechino’s job, if only because it’d be strange to see the assistant coach land a main job with a division rival while the headliner gets dumped.
But watching the pace of Detroit’s hirings, I’m curious how much of the White Sox’s deliberate pace is due to the decision to ride with a guy who figured to be out of the game. A recently connected manager like Hinch probably had some idea of who he had in mind for a fresh start with a new organization. La Russa’s main lieutenant decided to stay retired, so it’s all on the front office.
Which could be fine, assuming the front office actually gets to see some of its goals actually come to fruition this offseason. Rick Hahn didn’t get to deliver on an expansive coaching search, and Fetter wasn’t allowed to happen, either.
James Fox has mentioned Ethan Katz, the Giants assistant pitching coach who groomed Lucas Giolito and Harvard Westlake High School, and Matt Hobbs, who is for Arkansas with Fetter was to Michigan. Either of those guys would be able to represent ambition the front office hasn’t yet been able to showcase, and the latter would be ripping a page from Minnesota’s playbook. The Twins broke the seal between the majors and college by hiring Wes Johnson from the Razorbacks program after the 2018 season.
The weirdness with La Russa aside, the White Sox remain a pretty good landing spot during an offseason without many overhauls. Maybe the Mets will create a few fresh openings now that Steve Cohen is officially in charge, but until then, the White Sox still have a lot of room to operate, at least if any agency is granted.
(Ken Lund / Flickr)