The Pirates had one of the worst pitching performances in franchise history, and pitching coach Jeff Andrews paid the price.
General manager Neal Huntington yesterday fired Andrews and first base coach Lou Frazier after each had one year on the job, and he informed the rest of manager John Russell's staff that it will be retained for at least another year, after which all of their contracts can expire. Russell's contract has two years to go.
"Anytime you fail at a task, there are going to be consequences," Andrews said. "This was the ultimate consequence."
Andrews, 49, was in his first year in Major League Baseball after 22 in the minors in pitching instruction, and he oversaw a pitching staff that had a 5.08 ERA, third-highest in the majors and fifth-highest in franchise history. Its 657 walks were second-most in the majors, most in franchise history. The starting pitchers had 33 wins, fewest in the majors.
Andrews' successes included overseeing Paul Maholm's breakout season and the return to the majors of Sean Burnett in a relief role. Moreover, few in baseball would dispute that Andrews dealt with some difficult-to-solve issues: Foremost was that Matt Morris, who no longer could throw a respectable fastball, was one of the five pitchers -- exactly five -- that Huntington declared entering spring training would make up the rotation. The No. 6 option was Phil Dumatrait, coming off an 0-3, 15.00 ERA season for the Cincinnati Reds, and the depth beyond that was negligible.
Huntington declined to discuss specifics of Andrews' firing, choosing to address the topic of the two coaches together.
"Both are outstanding people who worked hard did what they could to fulfill their responsibilities," Huntington said. "In no way, shape or form are we intending to make scapegoats out of them. I'm the one who hired them. I'm accountable. I didn't want to have to be replacing anybody after just one year."
Andrews attempted to sound upbeat yesterday, but the pressure and worry, in reality, had been dragging him down for weeks.
"I'm proud of what Maholm and Burnett and others accomplished. And I'm proud of what Zach Duke did, even though I didn't have anything to do with it," Andrews said. "I'm not sure what's going to happen next, but I'm looking forward to it."
The most glaring blemish, without a doubt, was the combined regression of Ian Snell and Tom Gorzelanny, a factor that upper management blamed time and again for the team's inability to have its pitching match its surprising offense in the first half.
But the underlying sentiment behind Andrews' firing likely was more general than that: Management was known to be displeased with staff-wide negative tendencies such as the frequent first-inning blowups, a failure to pitch inside and, above all, massive inconsistency in the mere throwing of strikes.
Frazier, 39, also served as the team's outfield instructor, his most visible contribution. The outfield play was markedly better this past season than in 2007, with Nate McLouth in consideration for a Gold Glove, Jason Bay regaining his range with healthier knees and Xavier Nady leading the National League in assists before the trades of the latter two.
The most likely reason for Frazier's dismissal was a lack of experience where the Pirates now have decided they want some: Frazier never before coached in the majors.
Frazier was told Sunday before the team charter left from San Diego because he lives in Arizona. Andrews was told yesterday after the team charter touched down in Pittsburgh.
It is possible that the Pirates' motivation in firing both was that they have what they consider to be better options in mind.
Among the pitching coach options they are known to be entertaining are out-of-work but highly accomplished Rick Peterson and Joe Kerrigan. Peterson, fired by the New York Mets this summer, has pioneered techniques in studying biomechanics and psychological principles. He should be highly coveted and could be expensive. Kerrigan once managed the Boston Red Sox and, until recently, was the New York Yankees' bullpen coach.
There also are potential pitching coaches currently in the playoffs the Pirates are eyeing. One could be John Farrell of the Boston Red Sox, a finalist for the Pirates' managerial job that Russell got, but a lateral move from a perennial contender to the Pirates would be a head-scratcher.
The prime candidate for the first base coaching job will be, as was the case last offseason, Perry Hill, one of the game's most respected infield instructors. The Pirates and Hill, formerly of the Florida Marlins, were close to a deal last November, but Hill backed away for personal reasons and did not work in baseball this year.
Huntington said that the list for each job could grow and that no formal interviews have been set.
Dejan Kovacevic can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org .