Nearly four years ago, I met Mickey Callaway for the first time. He had just completed his first season with the Indians as the pitching coach on manager Terry Francona’s big league staff in Cleveland after spending the previous three seasons as the team’s minor league pitching coordinator (2012) and as a pitching coach (2010 at Class-A Lake County and 2011 at High-A Kinston).
Speaking to him one-on-one for 15 minutes or so, I had a feeling that there was plenty more in store for the former pitcher who was only just beginning his second career in the pro game after spending five seasons in the Majors (with Tampa Bay, Anaheim, and Texas) and parts of 13 years in the minors, in independent ball, and overseas in Seoul within the Korean Baseball Organization.
After four seasons of guiding the Indians pitching staff and helping turn several players’ careers around, Callaway’s name came up as a candidate for several of the managerial openings in the Majors. Despite no professional experience as a manager, he will get his shot on an awfully big stage as he was selected by the New York Mets on Sunday to be the team’s 21st skipper in club history.
Callaway had been building a résumé worthy of a managerial shot over the last several years, where he saw Corey Kluber attain the status of the American League’s top pitcher in 2014 (and possibly again in 2017) while helping to turn around the careers of starters Ubaldo Jimenez, Scott Kazmir, Carlos Carrasco, and most recently, Trevor Bauer. Pitchers under his watch in Cleveland put up historic numbers over the last several seasons and have reached the postseason three times in the last five years, including the team’s incredible World Series run in 2016.
Now, the Indians have big shoes to fill as Callaway heads to the Big Apple.
Internally, the Tribe has some options to consider, including Ruben Niebla, whose name has already come up this offseason as a potential candidate in another pitching coach vacancy around baseball. A long-time member of the Indians organization, he was one of the names considered for Francona’s staff when he took over the club following the 2012 season.
Niebla served the franchise again last season as the minor league pitching coordinator. The 45-year-old wrapped up his pro playing career in 2000 after time in the minors with the Montreal Expos and Los Angeles Dodgers and has worked with the Indians organization since, almost exclusively as a minor league pitching coach. He was also the interim pitching coach for the Indians’ big league club in 2012.
Jason Bere has worked as the team’s bullpen coach for the last three seasons. Before transitioning into that role, he spent nine years (2006-14) working in the team’s front office as a Special Assistant to Baseball Operations. He spent eleven seasons in the Majors, including two different stints in the Majors with the Indians in 2000 and 2003 (while also concluding his professional career in the organization at Triple-A Columbus in 2005) before moving into his post-playing career for the club.
Down on the farm, former Tribe pitcher Steve Karsay has spent the last six seasons as a minor league pitching coach for the organization (Arizona League, 2012; Lake County, 2013 and 2015; Carolina, 2014; Columbus, 2016-17). He entered the pro game when he was selected in the first round of the 1990 draft. He spent eleven years in the Majors while playing for five different teams, but missed two full seasons injured. He was with the Indians from 1998 to 2001 and put together one of his best full MLB seasons with Cleveland in 1999, when he went 10-2 with a 2.97 ERA in 50 games.
Scott Atchison could also be a name to consider. He has worked for the Indians since hanging up the cleats, spending last season as the club’s Major League Advance Coach and Staff Assistant. The 41-year-old pitched for 17 years professionally, including two years overseas. He pitched for the Indians in 2014 and 2015 and joined the coaching staff following his retirement.
The list of external candidates could be even longer for Francona. Several bigger name coaches around the league lost their jobs following the season, including Chris Bosio (Chicago Cubs), Dave Eiland (Kansas City), Jim Hickey (Tampa Bay), Derek Lilliquist (St. Louis), Mike Maddux (Washington), Bob McClure (Philadelphia), Dave Righetti (San Francisco), and Carl Willis (Boston). Other names recently on the open market include Neil Allen (Minnesota), Rich Dubee (Detroit), and Dan Warthen (New York Mets).
That list could also include Curt Young, who was fired by Oakland during the season. He spent eleven seasons pitching in the Majors, including ten with the A’s, and worked as a minor league pitching coach for the organization from 1996 to 2003 before being promoted to A’s pitching coach from 2004 to 2010. He was a part of Francona’s staff in Boston in 2011 before returning to Oakland as its pitching coach once again from 2012 until he was fired this past June.
The Cardinals were rumored to be eyeing Hickey for their coaching vacancy, although there is some belief that he could reunite with his former manager, Joe Maddon, as part of the Cubs coaching staff as the two have a relationship from their time together in Tampa.
Willis was a minor league pitching coach for the Indians from 1997 to 2002 and their big league pitching coach from 2003 to 2009 and has worked with four Cy Young winners (CC Sabathia in 2007 and Cliff Lee in 2008 for Cleveland; Felix Hernandez in 2010 with Seattle; and Rick Porcello in Boston in 2016). He temporarily rejoined the Cleveland organization in 2014 as a special assistant and in 2015 as pitching coach at Triple-A Columbus before joining John Farrell’s staff in Boston in the same capacity less than two months after the start of the season. It is unknown whether sign stealing claims by Willis directed towards the Indians in the ALDS last season would make such a reunion unlikely or not.
Speaking of Farrell, his name had already been bantered about by some who thought a return to Cleveland to pair up again with his former Indians teammate Francona was a natural move, if Callaway were to find a managerial gig somewhere. Farrell, whose Red Sox were eliminated in four games by the Houston Astros in the ALDS this year, was the pitching coach on Francona’s staff in Boston from 2007 to 2010 before leaving to take the reins of the Toronto Blue Jays. Farrell would leave the Blue Jays after two seasons, essentially traded back to Boston to take over for the fired Francona beginning with the 2013 season.
Farrell could be a highly sought after commodity this offseason, but there is a chance that he may not want to go back into the coaching realm, preferring to find a managerial job somewhere this offseason or next (with several positions still open around the game today). The Cubs’ pitching coach opening could be enticing for Farrell, as the familiar face of Jon Lester is in the rotation there, as well as former Sox general manager Theo Epstein within the Chicago front office. He may also prefer some time off after dealing with some significant health issues and off-the-field concerns during his time leading the Red Sox.
Farrell and Francona have strong ties together, but Farrell also has strong links to the Indians organization. His father, Thomas Farrell, pitched briefly in the Indians farm system in the 1950s during his short professional career. Cleveland drafted John in the second round of the 1984 draft. He debuted with the club in 1987 and pitched with the Indians through the 1990 season before missing all of 1991 and 1992 with an injury. He returned to the Majors with the California Angels for the 1993 and 1994 seasons and returned to the Indians organization in June of the latter season, spending nearly two more seasons with the Tribe at the minor league level (outside of appearing in one game for the Indians in 1995). He concluded his playing career with a pair of losses in two starts for Detroit in 1996.
After his playing career, he also worked as the team’s farm director for six years from 2001 through 2006 before taking the pitching coach position with Francona in Boston.
In addition to the Indians’ newfound pitching coach need, there will be plenty of opportunities across the Majors for viable candidates, with openings on the coaching staffs of the Cardinals, Cubs, Giants, Mets, Nationals, Phillies, Rays, Red Sox, Royals, Tigers, and Twins yet to be filled.
Callaway is the second member of Francona’s Cleveland coaching tree to become a manager, following in the footsteps of Kevin Cash, the Indians’ former bullpen coach and current leader of the Tampa Bay Rays.
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