MLB’s weirdest offseason storylines: Rise of two-way players, the Orioles’ lack of bench coach and more
Regular-season baseball is only a few weeks away. You can tell because we’ve spent a lot of time recently recapping the offseason through various prisms: judging the teams who hadand , , and so on.
Today, we’re going to adhere to that spirit by touching on four “weird” offseason developments that may have flown under the radar. Note that by “weird” we mean a departure from the norm. For example, a third baseman learning first base isn’t weird; a third baseman learning to pitch is. It’s an admittedly subjective measure. Welcome to life.
With that in mind, let’s get to it.
The Orioles won’t have a bench coach
Generally speaking, teams who hire rookie managers tend to pair them with veteran bench coaches. When the Baltimore Orioles hired Brandon Hyde to be their skipper, it was fair to expect them to later add an elder statesmen to serve as his guide.
The Orioles interviewed Gary DiSarcina with that goal in mind. But, ultimately, opted against hiring DiSarcina — or anyone else for the role, for that matter. Baltimore is instead splitting up bench-coach duties among the rest of their staff:
How it will work, the Orioles don’t exactly know. But their plan, essentially, is to spread out the responsibility. Instead of having one lieutenant to lean on for in-game decisions, Hyde plans to consult a triumvirate of coaches for input. Brainstorming ideas with a wider variety of sources, the Orioles hope, will allow Hyde to make better decisions in the aggregate.
Although the bench coach is a staple on most coaching staffs, the 2019 Orioles won’t be the first team in recent memory to operate without one. For example, the 2015 Pittsburgh Pirates didn’t have an official bench coach. A season later, the Pirates gave the title to Dave Jauss, who had served as Clint Hurdle’s bench coach in an unofficial capacity.
We’ll see if the Orioles end up following the same path — abstaining for a year before bending to convention. For now, baseball’s worst team is doing something different.
Dodgers won’t have a general manager
Baseball is a game of inches, and a game of technicalities.
The Los Angeles Dodgers technically don’t have a general manager, and haven’t since Farhan Zaidi left to run the San Francisco Giants. In actuality, the Dodgers do have a GM — a few of them, even. Andrew Friedman is the “president of baseball operations” but can and does call the shots; Josh Byrnes is the “senior vice president of baseball operations” and is believed to be handling a lot of Zaidi’s old responsibilities; and the Dodgers hired Jeff Kingston from the Seattle Mariners to serve as their “vice president and assistant general manager.”
Yes, the Dodgers have an assistant general manager — and, in Raul Ibanez, a “special assistant to the general manager” — but no general manager. Makes sense.
It’s worth noting Friedman’s Tampa Bay teams used to operate with a similar front-office structure. For as uniform as most of these titles are, their actual meaning is relative.
The rise of two-way players
Shohei Ohtani’s success last season ensured that teams would be more open-minded about employing players who could pitch and hit (or hit and pitch). Sure enough, a number of players — veterans, even — are in line to potentially pull double-duty in 2019.
Predictably, the Los Angeles Angels are leading the charge. Kaleb Cowart, Jared Walsh, Bo Way, and William English are all experimenting with two-way play in the Angels system. Elsewhere, the Cincinnati Reds have tinkered with using reliever Michael Lorenzen as an outfielder — he played both ways in college. Then there’s Matt Davidson, currently with the Texas Rangers, who was sought after due to his power stroke and quality curveball.
Others are certain to join the ranks throughout the season, but it seems clear that Ohtani’s impact will continue to be felt — even if Ohtani himself won’t be able to pitch until 2020.
The decline of McKay, two-way player
Interestingly, one player who might be stepping away from the two-way game is Tampa Bay Rays prospect Brendan McKay. The Rays announced that McKay will DH when he isn’t pitching, but he won’t be playing first base this season.
Scouts regard McKay as a better pitcher than hitter — one who could conceivably reach the majors before the season is out if he remains healthy. That isn’t to suggest McKay is without his charms as a hitter, but it might not make sense for the Rays to delay his arrival while waiting on his bat to develop.