Over the next several days, the Orioles' top brass is expected to meet to iron out a short list of candidates to fill the team's vacant pitching coach job left empty by Dave Wallace's retirement from active major league coaching.
The Orioles will have a significant void to fill following the departure of Wallace, who is a veteran baseball man with an impressive and lengthy resume of developing pitchers over the past two decades. His partnership with bullpen coach Dom Chiti was a rare one because it was almost as if they shared pitching coach duties, but many Orioles pitchers swore by the duo and credited them for their success over the past three seasons.
Whoever replaces Wallace will be Orioles manager Buck Showalter's sixth pitching coach. Wallace was Showalter's pitching coach the longest, offering stability that the Orioles arms needed.
While Chiti would seem to be a seamless hire to take over for Wallace, Showalter said in his season-ending news conference that he's hesitant to take Chiti away from what he sees as an area of strength. Chiti has worked well with a variety of personalities in the bullpen like Zach Britton, Darren O'Day and Brach Brach. Showalter expects Chiti and his other remaining coaches to be back next season.
The Orioles bullpen was again one of the best in baseball, posting a 3.40 ERA that led the American League and was third in the majors. With lockdown arms like Britton, Brach and O'Day returning as well as developing right-hander Mychal Givens and situational lefty Donnie Hart, the bullpen goes into next season as the team's most stable unit.
"Dom is obviously a real bird in the hand down in the bullpen," Showalter said at the end of the season. "It's been a big reason, he and [Wallace] both, that our bullpen has been really consistent and strong, and should be one of our strengths next year. I'm going to be careful and we're going to be careful not to tinker with that too much."
Showalter said the team will initially look internally for Wallace's replacement, and Double-A Bowie pitching coach Alan Mills is one candidate who is highly regarded throughout the organization as an up-and-comer who has a future on a major league staff. Mills, a former major league reliever who pitched parts of nine seasons with the Orioles, played an instrumental role in the development of Givens and Hart at Bowie. He has also been a spring training instructor for the past several years, so the veterans are familiar with him.
But when you look at the pitching coach hires Showalter has made – Mark Connor, Rick Adair and Wallace – they were all experienced baseball men with decades of major league coaching experience. There's a certain level of authority that comes with that experience that Showalter tends to like in his pitching coaches.
That's not to say Mills wouldn't make a good major league pitching coach, but it's more likely that the organization would prefer to introduce him to the major league staff slowly, perhaps as a bullpen coach.
One possible candidate to keep an eye on is former Atlanta Braves pitching coach Roger McDowell, whose option for next season was declined this month. McDowell was the Braves pitching coach for 11 years, taking over after longtime pitching coach Leo Mazzone left for the Orioles before the 2006 season.
Over his time in Atlanta, McDowell worked to groom young pitchers like Julio Teheran, Craig Kimbrel, Mike Minor, Kris Medlen and Jair Jurrjens, and guided career renaissances for former Orioles Jim Johnson and Bud Norris.
McDowell offers experience, but maybe most importantly he offers a link to Wallace, who was the Braves minor league pitching coordinator from 2009 to 2013 and worked closely with McDowell over that time. McDowell also pitched for the Orioles, ending his 12-year major league career by making 41 appearances for them in 1996.
Because McDowell was let go by the Braves, he'd be free to be interviewed now, but any coach that is currently under contract would have to gain his team's permission before interviewing with the Orioles. Usually, a team would get about a week to talk to a candidate, so it's a challenge lining up interviews with candidates under contract. The end of the month will be an important date because some coaching contracts expire at the end of October, which could open the lines of communication to speak with other candidates. So the next two weeks will be instrumental in making movement on the hire.
Whoever gets the pitching coach job will inherit a different pitching staff than his predecessors. The Orioles staff will go into spring training with far fewer holes to fill than previous years. The Orioles return six starting pitchers for a five-man rotation and have one of the most stable bullpens in baseball.