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November 25, 2008 at 6:27 AM

Coaching shuffle; look for Castro to stay

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As colleague Larry Stone has reported, the Mariners have told pitching coach Mel Stottlemyre (pictured above, in spring training) and bench coach Lee Elia that they will not be returning in their roles next season. This came as no surprise in Elia’s case. He’d been in semi-retirement last June, working as a part-time consultant to the team, when Jeff Pentland was fired. At that point, Elia became hitting coach, then, a short time later, the team’s bench coach. Jose Castro took over as hitting coach, with Elia remaining in charge of overseeing the hitting in its totality. But as the season progressed, it became clear that Castro was more than adept in handling the role on his own.
Players raved about Castro’s approach. About how he could take the theory behind hitting and really get into the practical side with players on an individualized basis. That he was better than other hitting coaches at doing this. The team’s best hitter, Raul Ibanez, is believed to have plugged Castro to new GM Jack Zduriencik when the pair spoke by telephone. But the positive reviews for Castro had begun long before that. Castro impressed others within the orgnaization with his handling of shortstop Yuniesky Betancourt the final month of the season — getting him to put up more impressive offensive totals. With this team expected to be rebuilding to a large extent, it makes sense to stick with a hitting coach who seems to have the finer aspects of teaching down pat. So, look for him to be brought back.
As for Stottlemyre, as I said on last week’s blog broadcast, in response to a question from reader and local blogger Brett Miller, it only made sense to keep him if he was the guy new manager Don Wakamatsu envisioned having two or three years from now. There has been too much turnover in the pitching coach department already. Felix Hernandez, under the current arrangement, is going to be on to his third pitching coach in three seasons. If you want a guy to develop, that’s not the best recipe. That said, there’s no point subjecting Hernandez to the Stottlemyre doctrine another year if you know he won’t be around in 2010. At age 67, it was tough to envision this arrangement lasting through 2010. And if you’re Wakamatsu, and can’t envision that in your head, it’s time to cut bait and go with the guy you want over the long haul.
Stone says in his story that it won’t be Rick Peterson coming in as pitching coach and that’s also not a total surprise. There are many pitchers in the game who love Peterson’s work, but also some who did not like his approach. You hear less about that latter group, but they are out there. The fact that Wakamatsu knows Peterson personally did not automatically qualify him for the job. There are plenty of people around the game who know Wakamatsu and would be just as able to step into a rebuilding situation. Which, let’s face it, is what this will be in 2009 and possibly beyond.
By the way, nice to see the M’s getting in on the bidding for free agent Japanese pitcher Junichi Tazawa. It makes sense for this team to go after the best talent out there and at age 22, Tazawa would be in this team’s fold for years to come — regardless of any short-term rebuilding. The clubhouse problems between Ichiro, Kenji Johjima and the rest of the team have nothing to do with it. The Mariners should deal with those problems on an individualized basis, not lump the two players in as “Japan” versus everybody else. Sure, the two of them being Japanese and speaking a different language probably did not help their individual causes when issues of clubhouse jealousy arose.
But those two problems are for the M’s to deal with as clubhouse matters. Not to automatically conclude that a Japanese player won’t work out in Seattle. That type of thinking would be narrow-minded, and frankly, a little small-town provincial for the type of city Seattle strives to be. You can’t start looking at every player as being a snapshot of the country they are born in. Anyone who has ever interracted with Ichiro or Johjima can see that, while they might be Japanese, they are two totally different people. I’d be worried about this team’s future if it suddenly began straying away from signing top Japanese talent because of the clubhouse problems experienced by Johjima and Ichiro this year. I’m glad to see the team taking the grown-up route of looking at players as people first, and citizens of a certain country second. The strongest part of this franchise is that it isn’t afraid to gather the best players from all corners of the planet. Figuring out how to meld them into a unit does take more work than some other clubs might have to go through. But that’s why Zduriencik and company are paid the big bucks.

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