Though I know it is the middle of the playoffs, I cannot neglect what the Mariners have already done since their season ended. In case you missed it while watching the Rockies obliterate every team in their path, the Mariners announced that all their coaches except Jeff Pentland would not be coming back (though Gary Thurman will be re-assigned to roving minor league outfield instructor, which was the position he had before Hargrove resigned this season). Considering John McLaren inherited Mike Hargrove's staff, it is not surprising that he wants a chance to hire his own coaches. With that being said, he had better hire some great coaches after letting a few good ones go.
I'll start with the positions I am not concerned with, bullpen coach, first base coach, and bench coach. Frankly, I don't know how much more the bullpen coach does than pick up the bullpen phone and tell a pitcher that they need to warm-up. Perhaps they give a reliever some advice while warming up in the bullpen, but not much else. It seems to be an easily replaceable job, and no Mariner player seemed to have a particularly strong connection to Jim Slaton. One guy McLaren is rumored to be looking at is Norm Charlton, who I think would make a great bullpen coach. I wouldn't mind seeing his bulldog mentality rub off a little on the relievers (though all the relievers are already pretty good at going right after the hitters), and he provides a link to the two greatest years in Mariners history, 1995 and 2001.
As for first base coach, it is a position similar to bullpen coach. All the coach really does during the game is pat a player on the back when he gets to first base, and time how long the pitcher is taking to throw a pitch so that a runner knows if it is worth trying to steal or not. Usually a first base coach is also either the infield or outfield instructor as well, so that is what makes this role slightly more important than bullpen coach. Gary Thurman did a fine job, but he was only around for half the season and this is another very logical spot where McLaren can bring in one of "his guys."
Bench coach is arguably the most pivotal role on a coaching staff outside of manager. Bench coaches are the manager's right-hand man. They tend to look at potential scenarios a couple innings ahead in the game so that the manager can keep focused on the present situation in the game, and then the bench coach is also the sounding board for the manager when considering a move to make. The bottom line is that the manager and bench coach work closely together every game, so their needs to be a good rapport between the two. I doubt that John McLaren and Mike Goff had a bad working relationship, but at the same time this is the one position where McLaren absolutely needs to hire someone he really respects and trusts.
Now to look at the spots I am not so pleased about. I'll start with the lone holdover, Jeff Pentland. Though the Mariners have posted a nice team batting average the last couple years, they simply never walk. Likely, this has more to do with the type of players the M's have than it has to do with Pentland, but I also wonder how Jose Lopez has gone from a prospect that knew how to turn on a ball and smoke it, to a step above an anemic hitter hoping to just spray the ball around the field. I know there was a conscious effort to force Lopez to hit the ball the other way and master situational hitting, but it seems that in the process of teaching these supposedly valuable things they took away Lopez's power, which was one of the biggest reasons he made the majors in the first place. On the other hand, Yuniesky Betancourt is progressing very nicely as a hitter under Pentland's tutelage. All things considered I don't have much against Jeff Pentland, but this was a spot where I would have brought in one of "my guys," yet McLaren chose not to.
That leaves the two positions I am most concerned about, third base coach and pitching coach. Carlos Garcia has been the third base coach, as well as the infield coach. Garcia seemed to not do much to help or hurt the club in his role, so it is plausible to think that McLaren can hire somebody he knows better that will be able to capably replace Garcia. In fact, I would have no problem with this move at all if it weren't for the close relationship Felix Hernandez has developed with Carlos Garcia. I do not believe in catering to stars, but I see no reason to change personnel if they are doing a fine job in their role and a player like Felix really likes them.
In the end, I am by far the most disappointed that John McLaren is not bringing Rafael Chaves back. Yes, the Mariners pitching staff had a high ERA this year, but an outfield defense that featured statues in left and right field certainly had a large impact on that. Chaves is young, but his concept of pitching is fantastic, and there are numerous examples of the fine work he did. Remember when Jeff Weaver was horrific, went on the DL, and then came back a seemingly re-born pitcher? Rafael Chaves worked with Weaver to change his delivery, so that it would be consistent and improve his control. Remember when Brandon Morrow started walking every batter he faced mid-way through the season? It was Chaves who simplified his delivery, which instantly led to Morrow's most dominating stretch of the season. Remember when John McLaren said at the end of year that he wants to see his starting pitchers throwing at least 120 pitches every game? It was Chaves who suggested that maybe the pitchers could become more efficient with their pitches, allowing them to pitch deep into ballgames but without the tax that 120 pitches would put on their arms. As if all these positives were not enough, King Felix considers Chaves a fatherly figure. As far as I can tell, the only "good" reason McLaren has for letting Chaves go is that he does not want to see starting pitchers throw 120 pitches on a consistent basis. At the very least I will give McLaren credit for realizing he needs to find coaches who share some of the same basic beliefs as him, but in the case it is a shame because the M's are not going to find a better pitching coach for this staff than Rafael Chaves.
I am trying my best to reserve judgment on the coaching moves until McLaren and the Mariners have hired the 2008 staff. Still, I am worried about what Felix thinks of the ballclub. They just ditched a guy he considered a close friend, and a guy who was a fatherly figure to him. In addition, his best friend in the whole organization, Wladimir Balentien, may be looking at another year in AAA (even though if I were running the ballclub he would be the starting right-fielder). Don't the Mariners realize how critical Felix's development is to their success? They need to create an environment where Felix can grow and realize his vast potential. Clearly, they were doing a good job of that with guys like Carlos Garcia, and especially Rafael Chaves. Felix has to be disappointed on some level right now, and if the M's aren't careful they will drive Felix right out of town one day. No coach, no matter how superior they are, can offset the loss of a good player. I hope McLaren understands this, because by letting Chaves go I'm not convinced that he does. John McLaren better have some great coaches in mind to offset the losses.