On the first day of the offseason, the Royals shook up their coaching staff, parting ways with pitching coach Dave Eiland and bench coach Don Wakamatsu. The decisions come as the team prepares to embark on another rebuilding process following a disappointing 80-82 finish in 2017.
Eiland, one of the most respected pitching coaches in the game, just concluded his sixth season in Kansas City and oversaw a staff and bullpen that helped the franchise reach consecutive World Series. Wakamatsu joined the Royals staff after the 2013 season and helped formulate tactical decisions during games.
“We’re making some changes,” manager Ned Yost said Monday during a morning news conference. “We’re transitioning to a new group of players, and (general manager Dayton Moore) and I have been talking a lot about the coaching staff here that is going to move forward with a young group.”
The moves could have ripple effects on the rest of the staff. The next pitching coach will offer input on hiring the next bullpen coach, a position that former Royals pitcher Doug Henry has held since 2013. Henry will be a candidate to remain in the role, Moore told The Star. Yet the final decision will hinge on who emerges as the club’s new pitching coach. Henry is unlikely to be a candidate for the pitching coach job and has prepared to not return in 2018.
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In addition, assistant hitting coach Brian Buchanan may find himself in a new role, while Moore said the club was still having discussions on a future role for first-base coach Rusty Kuntz, who has long coveted a roving instructional role in the organization.
For now, hitting coach Dale Sveum, third-base coach Mike Jirschele and catching coach Pedro Grifol are expected back next season. Sveum, however, has emerged as a possible replacement for Wakamatsu in the bench coach role, a job that could position him as a possible successor to Yost if he opts to retire after the 2018 or 2019 season.
Sveum previously served as the bench coach for Yost in Milwaukee before replacing him during the 2008 season. He also spent two seasons managing the Chicago Cubs in 2012 and 2013.
“Dale’s a candidate to do a lot of things in this organization,” Moore said.
Yost said the club was still discussing possible replacements for Eiland and Wakamatsu. But the next bench coach will be integral in organizing the club’s in-game tactical strategy.
“You sit back and you look at your own strengths,” Yost said. “And my greatest strength isn’t running the game. I’m OK at it. But I’m not great at it.”
Perhaps the most surprising move on Monday was the decision to let Eiland leave the organization. A former pitching coach with the New York Yankees from 2008 to 2010, Eiland joined the Royals after the 2011 season. He has won World Series rings with two organizations and built a reputation as a mechanical guru.
The Royals’ team ERA was 4.61 this season, which ranked 10th in the league. The staff was at times handcuffed by injuries and a bullpen that missed the presence of Wade Davis. As the season wound down, Eiland expected to return to Kansas City for at least one more year. That changed during the season’s final weeks as Yost and Moore discussed the future of the staff. The Royals will now search for a new voice to guide a pitching staff that will be fronted by Danny Duffy and Ian Kennedy, who is coming off a frustrating year.
“Dave is a great mechanical pitching coach,” Yost said. “He formulates a great plan. He was an integral part of our championship.”
Wakamatsu, meanwhile, leaves the organization after being part of two World Series runs. Before arriving in Kansas City, he served as the Seattle Mariners’ manager in 2009-10, was a bench coach for the Toronto Blue Jays in 2011-12 and worked as a special assignment scout for the Yankees in 2013.
After the 2014 season, Wakamatsu was a finalist for the Rays managerial opening. Tampa Bay hired Kevin Cash instead.
“I want to personally thank both Don and Dave for the contributions they made to our success here, culminating with the World Series title in 2015,” Moore said.
As the Royals search for replacements, Yost said the team will put a premium on those capable of guiding a collection of young players who must be developed at the major-league level. The group includes shortstop Raul Mondesi, third baseman Cheslor Cuthbert and outfielder Jorge Soler and Jorge Bonifacio. All could play important roles for the club in 2018.
“It’ll strictly be people that enjoy and people that can handle what we’re about to do,” Yost said. “It’s going to be built around that type of stuff.”