Gibbons fills out coaching staff, minus 'pen coach
Walker takes over for Walton, will guide Blue Jays' pitchers next season
TORONTO -- New Blue Jays manager John Gibbons is almost done putting the finishing touches on his coaching staff for the upcoming season.
Toronto announced on Monday that five of its six coaching positions have been filled. DeMarlo Hale (bench coach), Chad Mottola (hitting coach), Dwayne Murphy (first base coach) Luis Rivera (third base coach) and Pete Walker (pitching coach) have all signed on.
Terms of the deals were not disclosed, and the Blue Jays have yet to name a new bullpen coach. Toronto general manager Alex Anthopoulos ultimately has the final say in all personnel moves, but in this case he left the decision-making up to Gibbons.
"I bounced some things off him, I'd ask him about the different coaches but he said, 'Hey this is your baby. Go for it.'" Gibbons said during a conference call with reporters less than one week after being introduced as the club's manager.
"These guys have good reputations, they do a good job, they're known to do a good job. I was looking for a little continuity, that way there's not so much turnover and it's not a big shock to all of the players. But I had the final say. Alex was adamant about that."
Hale is the only coach who was hired from outside the organization. He spent last season as the third-base coach in Baltimore and was offered a contract extension at the end of the season, but has instead decided to join Gibbons in Toronto.
The 51-year-old will be the primary organizer of Spring Training and he'll also assist with infield and outfield instruction when necessary. The previous Spring Training and infield instructor role belonged to Brian Butterfield, who joined the Red Sox alongside former manager John Farrell.
Hale's hiring is a major coup for the Blue Jays. He has been highly coveted in recent seasons and is generally considered a future manager in waiting, but has yet to receive an opportunity at the big league level.
Gibbons has a long-standing friendship with Hale, dating back to the 1990s, and that's the main reason he felt Toronto was able to convince the veteran coach to leave the Orioles.
"He's intelligent, he's always viewed as a guy who's a possible manager, and hopefully he gets his opportunity because I think he would be a darn good one," Gibbons said. "So, knowing that, he's the perfect guy to have on the bench.
"He was highly sought after by the Blue Jays at one time, when Farrell got the job, so it was just a natural fit. Our friendship's big, we can trust each other, I know him very well and everywhere he goes, his teams win. So if anything, that's a big factor right there in itself."
Mottola receives a much-deserved promotion after spending the past three seasons as the hitting coach in Triple-A Las Vegas. Mottola has been credited with overhauling the swings of Anthony Gose, Adeiny Hechavarria, Travis Snider and Adam Lind.
The results haven't always led to an improved performance at the big league level, but it's hard to measure exactly the coach's role in that. Players have always come away with glowing reviews.
In some ways, the hiring of Mottola now gives the Blue Jays two hitting coaches. Murphy was last year's primary instructor, and even though he received a slight demotion to first base coach and outfield instructor, Gibbons said he'll play a role with the hitters as well.
"He's there to assist Chad and I'm sure there are a lot of guys on the team that have a lot of faith in Murph and I have no problem with them using both of these guys," Gibbons said. "The thing is, after talking with both of them, they're happy to work as a tandem and bottom line is we want guys that produce.
"Murph knows the inside-out of these guys, so I told him not to hesitate to share what you know and what these guys might need. He's perfectly fine with it, Chad's perfectly fine it."
Rivera returns for a third consecutive season, but this will be the first time he's actually allowed in the dugout during games. He served as a coaching assistant in the past and was only allowed to work with players prior to first pitch, before moving into the stands to scout games.
The 48-year-old Rivera previously was the manager at Double-A New Hampshire and his ability to speak Spanish will prove crucial in Toronto's diverse clubhouse. He'll take over for Butterfield as the primary infield instructor while also receiving some help from Hale.
The vacant pitching coach position ended up being the toughest choice for Gibbons to make. The club ultimately opted not to bring back Bruce "Papi" Walton, who spent the past three seasons in that role and had been with the organization since 2002.
Gibbons instead went with Walker, who made his big league coaching debut in 2012 as the bullpen instructor. Walker spent parts of eight seasons in the big leagues and once was a member of Gibbons' pitching staff.
"That was one the toughest things I've ever had to do because Papi and I go way back," Gibbons said. "We're good friends, he has done a good job and he was very good to me over my years here.
"Pete's always been one of my favorite guys. Knowing what kind of pitcher he was and what it took for him to get to the big leagues, the dedication, just the way he approached the game, it wasn't an easy road for him. He was always that one guy who was always going to go above and beyond, do whatever it took to get there. Honestly, I always thought this guy had a chance to be a great coach some day and he can be a difference maker."