By Rob Rains
Jose Oquendo’s decision to leave the Cardinals’ major-league staff will have a trickle-down effect on the other members of the team’s coaching staff heading into next season.
The two changes announced on Tuesday by John Mozeliak, the team’s president of baseball operations, were that Pop Warner will take over as the third-base coach and Oli Marmol will move from first base to become the new bench coach.
Warner, who has extensive experience coaching third base as a manager in the minor leagues, had served as the bench coach for the second half of the 2018 season after the team’s managerial change.
Marmol also has several years of managing experience in the minor leagues before he became the first base coach two years ago. He has a close relationship with manager Mike Shildt, who was the scout who signed Marmol when he was drafted by the organization.
“A lot of this is really the comfort level of the manager,” Mozeliak said. “It’s really his responsibility to define what he is looking for. He felt Marmol could step in and do exactly what he needed.”
Another change announced by Mozeliak during a media briefing was that Mark Budaska will remain on the major-league staff but will shift to the role as the assistant hitting coach. George Greer, who had been in that position for the final three months of last season, will return to his previous job as the minor league hitting coordinator.
Those moves leave two current openings on the major-league staff, for a first base and hitting coach. One of those jobs is expected to go to Stubby Clapp, the Memphis manager the last two seasons, unless he is hired as a major-league manager this winter. He reportedly is under consideration for that job at least by the Toronto Blue Jays.
Mozeliak said the Cardinals have compiled a list of potential candidates for the hitting coach position, a job which could be filled from outside the organization similar to the decision to hire Mike Maddux as the pitching coach last winter.
“As we begin this search, having the right compliment working with the manager and Budaska is probably something that helps drive this,” Mozeliak said. “Our goal of this is more of preparation and strategy, understanding how someone is going to pitch to you and how you can adjust to it.
“When you think about style or approach, really you want to be able to maximize what you are good at. When you look at our club and having someone fit what our club looks like is more important than bringing someone in to try to just change the club. It’s hard to do that.”
Willie McGee will remain in his current role as an “unspecified” coach, Mozeliak said.
Mozeliak said it was Oquendo’s decision to step down from the major league staff. He will return to his previous role of a couple of years ago, working out of the team’s Jupiter complex with minor league players.
“He feels like being closer to home, working out of Jupiter, makes a lot more sense for him,” Mozeliak said. “There’s no doubt he’s going to be a loss. For two years I told all of you it wasn’t a loss, but it’s a loss. I’m glad he’s staying in our organization. I think he is going to bring value to our minor leagues and can help keep his pulse on what is going on.
“I wouldn’t be shocked if you see him from time to time in St. Louis but his day to day role will be functioning out of Jupiter.”
The Cardinals also will have to hire a new Triple A manager to replace Clapp, who led Memphis to back-to-back PCL championships the last two seasons. It’s also possible they will need to hire a new director of player development. Gary LaRocque, who currently has that job, is considered a strong candidate for the GM job with the New York Mets.
Among the other topics Mozeliak addressed in his hour-long media session:
• One of his takeaways from the season was that “88 wins wasn’t good enough … we know we have to focus on ways to improve this club.”
“Our division doesn’t look like it’s getting any weaker,” Mozeliak said. “It’s going to require both investment and intelligence to get us over that hump … When you look back at our club (from 2018) it seemed like it still missed that hitter. Finding a way to improve our offense on a more consistent level is really going to have to be our goal.”
While not discussing specific free agents who will be on the market this winter, Mozeliak did acknowledge that the Cardinals have not had a “face” of a franchise player since Albert Pujols left after the 2011 season. He also said he sees “opportunities” for the Cardinals both in the free agent and trade markets.
“We understand that there’s opportunity in this market and we have to be open minded to see where that takes us,” Mozeliak said. “Finding the face of a franchise player is something we recognize we haven’t had since Albert left, yet we’ve still consistently won. It’s a different way of building a club.
“The way we have to approach the next two or three months is are these opportunities making us better? I will say Mr. (Bill) Dewitt is not happy with where we are. He wants us to do better. He wants us back in the postseason. I understand it, I hear it, and we will try to look at ways to do that.”
• The team must improve defensively in 2019. “I know that will be a topic of this coaching staff and how we think about bringing players in,” Mozeliak said.
• There will be a focus on finding a left-handed reliever who can retire left-handed hitters. “Our inability to find that type of reliever that could successfully eliminate that number two, three or four hitter in somebody’s lineup is something we have not been able to do.”
• It’s possible one left-handed reliever candidate could be former Cardinal Rick Ankiel, who said earlier this year he wanted to try to come back as a pitcher after being out of the game for several years.
“At some point he and I will touch base. We had a nice discussion a few weeks back and I certainly understand his sincerity and seriousness about this,” Mozeliak said. “It’s something he’s going to be 100 percent effort in and I think he is very much committed to trying.”
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