What exactly where the Rays doing in making such big changes to the coaching staff?
Depends on how you look at it, but — in different ways — it was just time.
Time for manager Kevin Cash to get his own staff.
When Cash took over in 2015, with no previous managing experience, he pretty much inherited the staff, with five holdovers from Joe Maddon's crew and two internal additions in 1B coach Rocco Baldelli and 3B coach Charlie Montoyo. Most new managers get to bring in a couple of "their" guys, coaches they have long relationships and high comfort with. So you could say that after three years, with Kyle Snyder now replacing Jim Hickey as pitching coach and Chad Mottola previously replacing Derek Shelton as hitting coach, Cash now has that, with bullpen coach Stan Boroski the lone remaining holdover from Maddon's staff.
Time for Hickey to go
As good as Hickey is and as much as the Rays value pitching you'd think they'd do anything to keep him around. But Hickey wasn't long for the job, likely to leave after 2018 when his contract was up anyway. That was in part wanting to be with a team better positioned to win — having made the playoffs six times in 10 years with the Astros and Rays creates that thirst. And, as he admitted, having a "difference of opinion" and not being "100 percent on board" with the Rays' direction, which surely includes their plans to pull starters early and use relievers more. The pitching coach has to sell that and other strategies to the staff, and with the young arms they have coming, Snyder is better positioned to do that. Also, it wasn't about money as the difference in salaries between Hickey and Snyder wasn't much relatively (maybe a few hundred thousand), and the Rays could end up paying Hickey his full salary to not work. But expect him to land a big-time gig, with the Cardinals and Mets already rumored, and the potential for some other appealing jobs to come open.
Time to try something different
Moving Montoyo to bench coach in place of Tom Foley isn't about proactively keeping him from interviewing for manager jobs elsewhere or positioning him to take over if Cash gets fired. It is, after three straight losing seasons, to help them win more in 2018, as it became increasingly apparent to Cash that Montoyo, with 18 years as a minor-league manager, can be a huge asset to him with in-game decision making, specifically in better anticipating moves to consider and reacting quicker.
The makeover isn't complete yet, with two openings to still fill.
They need a third-base coach, and seem likely over the next couple weeks to look outside, maybe to some recently made available experienced candidates such as Tim Bogar (last with Mariners), Dave Clark (Tigers), Juan Samuel (Phillies).
The other opening is for assistant hitting coach, with Jamie Nelson going back to the minors, and Durham's Ozzie Timmons would seem a likely internal candidate. There's also the possibility the Rays get creative with that position and go the "quality control," "run-prevention" or some other new-wave title. If so, Baldelli could slide over and they could instead hire a new first-base coach.
FWIW: After the five teams that made the AL playoffs, the next best record was the 80-82 by the Rays, Angels and Royals. That also means that only five of the 15 teams had winning records. Weird year.
RAYS RUMBLINGS: Among things to ponder over the offseason, what if the Rays had been successful in July in getting OF J.D. Martinez, who hit .302-29-65-1.107 in 62 games for Arizona? ... With the departures of Foley and Hickey, the only uniformed Rays left who wore Devil Rays green are Baldelli (player 2003-07) and Cash (2005), plus longtime bullpen catcher Scott Cursi. ... The Rays only option question isn't much of a question, an easy yes on Tommy John-recovered RHP Nate Eovaldi for $2-million plus incentives. ... Two players the Rays have had previous interest are available, OF/DH Jose Bautista as a free agent, INF/OF Jurickson Profar in trade from Texas. ... Baseball America's admittedly "Way Too Early" mock draft has the Rays taking Stetson RHP Logan Gilbert with the 16th pick. ... Expect an announcement on Levy Restaurants taking over as the Trop concessionaire. ... In addition to trades, one of the most interesting off-season decisions will be whether to make a qualifying offer to RHP Alex Cobb, gambling he turns it down so they get compensation when he signs elsewhere rather than take it for an $18-million, one-year deal.
AROUND MLB: Zephyrhills' Dave Eiland will be a good hire for some team (Mets?) as pitching coach. ... Joe Maddon's Respect 90 Foundation donated $3,000 to Burg Baseball in St. Petersburg to replace stolen equipment and concession supplies. ... Ex-Ray John Jaso told Pirates.com's Adam Berry he is considering retiring at 34 and living "a simple life" on his sailboat. ... In that mock draft, BA has Florida RHP Brady Singer going No. 1 to the Tigers and USF LHP Shane McClanahan sixth to the Mets. ... New Pinellas County resident Bill Madden, the longtime New York Daily News writer, has written a play on late Yankees boss George Steinbrenner he is hoping to eventually get to Broadway.
Marc Topkin can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow @ TBTimes_Rays