SAN FRANCISCO — Late in a 98-loss season, general manager Bobby Evans met with members of the coaching staff to discuss new roles. The shakeup of the staff ended up being a stunning one.
Pitching coach Dave Righetti was one of three coaches to be reassigned Saturday morning. After 18 seasons as pitching coach, Righetti will now serve as special assistant to the general manager. Bullpen coach Mark Gardner was given a “special assignment role to assist in pitching evaluations.” Assistant hitting coach Steve Decker will be a special assistant for baseball operations.
The moves cap a 13-month run in which the coaching staff has taken much of the blame for a $200 million roster that was poorly constructed in places and played embarrassing baseball for long stretches of the 2016 and 2017 seasons. Third base coach Roberto Kelly was let go after the 2016 season and first base coach Billy Hayes was reassigned. More changes appear on the way.
“It does raise the level of attention to change when you struggle as much as we have, but you’re always contemplating making changes to try to help keep pushing your guys and make sure you continue to have different perspectives and new voices and reflections on how to get the most out of them,” Evans said on a conference call.
Throughout September, multiple coaches expressed concern about their future roles, but the Giants held off several weeks before announcing changes. At least two members of the staff were involved in managerial searches elsewhere, and third base coach Phil Nevin is reportedly still a candidate for the open job in Philadelphia.
Evans confirmed that he has interviewed outside candidates for a hitting coach role, but he would not go so far as to say Hensley Meulens will be reassigned as well. He also would not speak to the future of Ron Wotus, although the longtime bench coach is expected to be mixed up in future changes as well. Evans indicated he would announce further moves after all the open managerial vacancies are filled.
For now, the Giants are in the process of trying to find a new pitching coach. They are focused on experienced outside candidates, and they have plenty of options, as several other teams have made changes this month. Evans hinted that he wants the next pitching coach to have a more analytical approach.
Righetti's replacement will have massive shoes to fill. His run was the longest for a pitching coach in franchise history. The Giants, usually so reliant on pitching, finished 16th in the Majors with a 4.50 ERA, but it’s hard to see how Righetti takes the blame for that. Madison Bumgarner missed a chunk of the season after a dirt bike accident, Johnny Cueto had a brutal injury-plagued year, Matt Moore battled himself and had the worst ERA in the National League, and the bullpen struggled, with closer Mark Melancon pitching through an injury that required season-ending surgery.
Righetti was credited with helping to develop a rotation and bullpen that won three titles, and the bond he shared with pitchers was on display during the final weekend of the year, when Matt Cain talked repeatedly about their close relationship and went straight for Righetti after he came off the field for the final time. While it’s often hard to figure out where to give credit, even in a down year for the staff, Righetti played a role in Sam Dyson’s resurgence, and he helped Ty Blach and Chris Stratton break in as big league regulars.
“Ultimately a change for us in the clubhouse is really an opportunity just to put a new voice with our pitching staff and try to keep pushing to the heights that we aspire as an organization and a club,” 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.”
Righetti will help Evans in a front office role. Evans admitted that Righetti’s “heartbeat is in uniform as a coach,” but said he was willing to take on a new role for an organization he loves.
Gardner, a former Giants pitcher, had been on staff since 2003. He will now help to evaluate pitchers inside and outside the organization, and Evans said Gardner could serve an important role in evaluating trade options. Decker joined the big league staff in 2015 after a long run working in the minor leagues. The 2017 season was his 23rd with the organization. He will have a “blank canvas,” Evans said, working in different roles inside the organization. Decker will also help with draft preparation.