Wednesday, December 24, 2014

Yankees taking a “Long” time to hire hitting coach(es)

Remember how the New York Yankees HAD to move to fire someone after their second straight season missing the playoffs? And remember how Kevin Long was considered the main scapegoat after the Yankees persistently fielded fledgling former All-Stars and a slew of replacement level players in an ever-changing lineup? Well, Mr. Long now has a job with the crosstown Mets and the Yankees are still looking for his replacement.

Just how important is a hitting coach’s job? Or how important is it to the Yankees?

Look, in my view it’s an essential role within the organization, but don’t you get the feeling that the hitting coaches in the lower levels have a much larger impact on players than the ones at the major league level? Sure, major league hitting coaches work hard and they obviously know their craft, but how influential are they really?

Wouldn't it be fair to say that if the Yankees’ offense produced as expected in 2014, Long would still be manning the position? How much of the Yankees’ problems were because of Long? Didn’t he produce some extremely productive offenses during his tenure? Did his approach to his job change or did the players simply fail? The Mets seem to think they've got a good coach, hiring him shortly after the Yankees gave him the ax.

Long was there for his guys and each of them would verify that if asked. So, it’s hard not to see the hitting coach position as one that rides completely on the performance of the group it’s overseeing. If they succeed, the coach stays, and if they fail he’s gone. It really is the same for any coaching or managerial position.

The Yankees did try to move on the job quickly but had little luck. They had some discussions with Chili Davis who chose Boston, and passed after speaking with Dave Magadan, who eventually landed in Texas. They supposedly had interest in former Yankee Raul Ibanez who wants to stay home, and another former Pinstriper Eric Hinske decided to stay with the Cubs. Since then, the Yankees were rightly concentrating on filling the roster.

Now, the New York Post’s George King III reports that general manager Brian Cashman is waiting until January now to truly reflect on which way he wants to go with the role and if he wants to add an assistant hitting coach as well. I guess there really is no hurry.

None of this is to say the Yankees feel the role is unimportant but the offseason is about getting the roster together. Theoretically, if they went with one hitting coach, he should be able to work with whoever is in the batter’s box in Tampa when spring training begins. However, this team has seen an overhaul of sorts on the offensive side and now the Yankees might want to make sure the person they select is going to be able to work with the younger players like Rob Refsnyder, Jose Pirela and Didi Gregorius who will play prominent roles in 2015.

Or they can bring in a veteran coach to work with the older players and someone from the system to act as the assistant hitting coach who is familiar with the players who have come up the system. King notes that one veteran name being tossed around is Jeff Pentland who has held the position with five different major league clubs, and most recently was the Miami Marlin’s hitting coordinator. James Rowson, the Yankees’ current minor league hitting coordinator, has also been mentioned as that potential assistant hitting coach.

Whichever way it goes, we’ll be waiting until after the New Year to see the structure. And in the end if it is one or two coaches it doesn’t matter. The person(s) given the role will be at the mercy of the hitters.

Veterans like Mark Teixeira, Carlos Beltran and Brian McCann will either bounce back or not. The young players like Refsnyder, Pirela and Gregorius will thrive quickly or not. Brett Gardner and Jacoby Ellsbury will either have consistently productive seasons or one with rampant streaks in both directions like last season. Whatever happens we know that fans and ultimately the front office will hold new hitting coach(es) accountable for the players’ ability to hit or not. It's that simple.

Christopher Carelli is a freelance sports writer and sports media strategist. His baseball commentary has also been published on Yahoo Sports, the FanSided network, Sportsideo and linked multiple times on MLB Trade Rumors’ Baseball Blogs Weigh In. He is a member of the Internet Baseball Writers Association of America, the Baseball Bloggers Alliance and the BYB Hub.