Update [2006-11-18 21:13:31 by R.J. Anderson]: It's official, Mike Butcher is the new LAA pitching coach...
and Jim Hickey is the new Rays pitching coach, again DRB was the first Rays blog to report the possibility and the information.
Please note this story was written and posted hours in advance of this news, therefore take it in context:
Not much to report as far as free agents or trade rumors, but there may be a coaching change. No, not Joe Maddon (or Joe-Ma, Joe-(not)Mad, ect.) but rather pitching coach Mike Butcher.
We figured that if he does indeed go back to the Angels to replace new Padres manager Bud Black, that our own system's Xaiver Hernandez would replace him.
However Ken Rosenthal of Fox Sports (in other words 'take this with a grain of salt') says that former Astros pitching coach Jim Hickey may be the man behind the pitches next year in Tampa.
The pitching coach carousal is in full motion, Boston let Dave Wallace go, who replaced Hickey in Houston, Butcher may replace Bud Black in Anaheim, and Hickey may come here to replace Butcher, but the question is....why would we choose Hickey over our own Xaiver Hernandez?
Hickey worked with and I suppose you can say helped to groom pitchers such as Roy Oswalt, Brandon Backe, and Brad Lidge. He spent 7 years as the Astros' AAA affiliate's pitching coach, where he worked with most of the current Astros. Hickey took over in July of 2004 and helped the Astros go to a World Series in his two and a half years of service. He also has ties to Gerry Hunsicker so that part of the equation makes sense. But Xaiver Hernandez is practically the Rays version of Hickey, or at least the closest thing we have to a Hickey.
Xaiver has spent five years with the Rays, and last season was his second with the Biscuits, in which he lead a great pitching staff that consisted of top prospects Jeff Niemann, Mitch 'K-Bot' Talbot, and Andrew Sonnanstine to the Southern League title, he also got the most out of relievers like Juan Salas (whom he practically made into a shutdown minor league reliever), Jeff Ridgway, and the recently departed but marginally talented Jean Machi.
It may be possible that the Rays would rather move Hernandez and possibly the rest of the AA coaching staff up to fill the void left by the Tamargo staff in Durham. Of course if that were to happen and Charlie Montoyo turns the Durham team around, come next winter things may get interesting.
Remember Joe Maddon signed a two year deal with a two year club option. This could very well be his last year, and the Rays must make a choice of either giving him job security and checks for the next three seasons, or giving him another year and possibly making a change for 2008, in which figures to be the first 'playoff run' year. If Montoyo and crew were to make an impression on Stu and Andrew could we see the staff take over on the Major League level? It's doubtful that a team looking to make a run would hire a first time MLB manager, especially since rumors of Joe Girardi, Bobby Valentine, and others will be rampant.
Back to Hickey, the Astros were 5th in all of baseball this season in team ERA (4.08) the Rays were 27th with an ERA of 4.96. In 2005 Hickey's unit posted an 3.51 ERA, for the 2nd lowest in the NL. It's of course unfair to compare Butcher's staff to Hickey, look for instance at former Rays' pitching coach Chuck Hernandez, whose Tiger team posted a league low 3.84 ERA, compared to 2005 where Chuck's Rays' staff posted a 5.39 ERA, unless you think Chuck learned how to knock a full 1.5 off of a team's ERA in a season then it's pretty clear to say it was the level of talent with a mix of the manager and staff surrounding Chuck.
The same may or may not be true of Hickey, who had a staff that included Roger Clemens and Andy Pettitte. In the minors Hickey's New Orleans staff led the PCL in ERA and went through 16 starters while posted a 3.41 ERA. In 2002 the team posted a 3.40 ERA with 11 shutouts, and in 2001 the team had a 3.75 ERA.
All in all we'll keep you up to date on any future information that comes from this situation. Check back for updates (if any) on the foregoing off-season.