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Diamondbacks pitching coach: a job nobody wants?

It’s proving harder than you’d think to replace Mike Butcher

Sporting News MLB Baseball Collection Photo by John Cordes/Sporting News via Getty Images via Getty Images

“To lose one candidate for pitching coach may be regarded as a misfortune; to lose two looks like carelessness.” — Oscar Wilde

The news that both Bryan Price and Kirk Saarloos have turned down the job of pitching coach for the Arizona Diamondbacks seems rather disconcerting. You would have thought that a top position on s major-league club that both improved and posted a winning record last year, with one of the better farm systems, would be of interest. And it’s not as if the candidates refused the job out of the gate. According to the reports from Zack Buchanan of The Athletic, both Price and Saarloos went through the interview process, were deemed good fits for the position and were offered the job - only then to decline it. That seems just a tad unusual.

Maybe, of course, I’m speaking from the point of view of normal employment. But if I go into an interview for a position, it’s because I am interested in the job. The only reason I can think of for turning it down when offered, is if something crops up that is sufficient of a show-stopper to change that position. “...and did I mention, that on Fridays, we have mandatory rituals before the cult idol of Billie Eilish in the basement?” For something similar to happen with the Diamondbacks, to not just one, but two candidates, does make me wonder if there is indeed a cult idol of Billie Eilish in the basement. [Fun fact: one of Eilish’s multiple middle names is “Pirate”. I wish I was joking]

We can only speculate as to the precise details of what it was that caused Price and Saarloos to nope the hell out of Chase Field. With Price, there is at least some prior history, since he was the pitching coach in Arizona from 2007 until May 2009. He resigned after Bob Melvin was fired and replaced by the man who is now Astros manager, and currently one win from becoming World Series champion for the second time, A.J. Hinch. Clearly, the front office is radically different, more than a decade later; President Derrick Hall and owner Ken Kendrick are probably about the only people still around from those days. Well, Bobby Freeman and Greg Schulte too, but I doubt they played much into Price’s decision.

After leaving Arizona, he took up the same position in Cincinnati for four seasons, and then stepped up to manage the Reds from 2014, before being fired early in 2018, after opening the year by going 3-15. It’s possible he is still looking to get back into a managerial position, and with a plethora of spots to be filled this year - eight managers were released, though half of those have since been replaced - Price might be looking to land in one of those. Right now, the Giants, Mets, Pirates and Royals are still looking for a manager, though most of those seem like one flavor or another of poison pill.

It’s also worth remembering that the D-backs are not the only team looking for a pitching coach this winter. Bigger, arguably better opportunities are open, including perhaps the plum two with the Red Sox and Yankees. They may be more appealing than the quiet backwater of Arizona, though that would very much depend on your personality, I suspect. The situation with Saarloos is a little different, since he is currently the pitching coach of TCU. It would seem a clear promotion to go from college baseball to the major leagues, but again, Saarloos declined. There may well be family reasons involved there, with the coach apparently well-settled in Fort Worth, along with his family.

More generally, there are a couple of obvious potential reasons which come to mind for the offers being declined, though no-one (not even Buchanan) has any specific information on these. One is salary. Are the Diamondbacks offering enough to capture their front-line choices? The other is the job conditions. For example, are there working conditions which are proving a turn-off? Again, we can only speculate, but perhaps there is a requirement for whoever takes the job to work in a certain way e.g. requiring approval from Mike Hazen, which proved off-putting to Price and Saarloos.

It is slightly disconcerting to see the team knocked back in this fashion. But in the long run, it’s probably best for the team to get the “right” man for the job, rather than forcing a square peg to fit into a round hole. We’ll just have to wait and see how far down their list of candidates, the team needs to go.