Often the success or failure of a Major League Baseball team’s offseason is based on the changes made to the roster. Regularly overlooked are tweaks and adjustments made to the coaching staff.
The Oakland brain trust made several key additions to their roster this past offseason, but it may be the changes made to the coaching staff that will have the greatest impact on the outcome of the 2016 season.
With the return of defensive guru Ron Washington the A’s will expect certain improvement in their infield defense. Under new bench coach and former Athletic outfield standout Mark Kotsay, the coaching staff looks to strengthen coach-player relations and further professionalism.
For a team whose record last season was perhaps worse than the sum of its parts, the modifications made to the staff, as well as the roster, could jolt the Green and Gold right back into the postseason race.
At Oakland A’s FanFest last weekend, manager Bob Melvin spoke to the work ethic and commitment of Washington:
“He’s one of the great defensive teachers in the game, and it’s well documented. … He wants to set that tone from day one of Spring Training. Its great to have a guy like him.”
Washington served as Oakland first base coach in 1996 before moving up to third base and infield coach in 1997.
During his first tenure as an A’s assistant coach, “Wash” gained notoriety as the man behind the defensive prowess of former Athletic third baseman Eric Chavez, who during his time was acknowledged among the league’s best defenders. It was Chavez’s six consecutive Gold Gloves that brought the glove whisperer to the forefront of the baseball world. Washington said:
“That’s what I do. It’s my job to be sure that all of them are prepared to go out there and be the best that they can be.”
Washington carried out his East Bay duties until being named manager of the Texas Rangers in 2007.
In 2010, the New Orleans native became the second manager to lead the Rangers to the postseason and the first to achieve a postseason series victory en route to back-to-back American League pennants.
When he returned to the A’s last May. Washington set his sights on shortstop Marcus Semien. After Semien committed 27 errors though June, he finished the year with only 35 after working with Washington.
Washington said his focus this season is to champion improvement like Semien’s across the infield:
“I have six or seven guys that I’m responsible for, and those are the guys that my mind is focused on. Those are the guys that I’m trying to do the job for so Bob Melvin don’t fuck with me, in a sense.”
When discussing his excitement for the upcoming season Washington is quick to point out the importance of the coaching staff in its entirety. He did, however, single out the team’s new bench coach.
Melvin as well shared his thoughts about Kotsay:
“He was always a clubhouse presence on whatever team he was on… We’re excited about having him and I know he’s excited to be back in Oakland where he made name for himself, and we were lucky to get him.”
The long-time major leaguer, an Athletic from 2014 when he finished 14th in the MVP race through 2007, posted a .276/.332/.404 slash in his 17-year big league career. After spending the 2015 season as the hitting coach for the San Diego Padres, the A’s created space on the staff in order to lure Kotsay north, according to Melvin.
Though the Padres finished the season with the league’s worst team batting average (.243), Kotsay exhibits several attributes that make him an invaluable member of the club.
Washington watched much of Kotsay’s A’s career first-hand, and summed up those attributes:
“Class. Winner. Don’t back down. Communicator. Players’ interest. That’s what he (Kotsay) is, he’s about trying to make sure that these players get the best out of their abilities that they possibly can. He’s been there. He’s done that.”
He may be formally untested as a leader of men, but endorsement from two of the game’s most respected leaders says enough to provide A’s fans with massive hope. And being surrounded by battle-tested peers like Washington along with first base coach Mike Aldrete and pitching coach Curt Young will pave the way for Kotsay’s development.
The group also allows Melvin the opportunity to focus on delegation, which Washington claims is the key role of a manager, as well as the trust and autonomy that a staff has to have within itself to be successful: