Yankees fans hoping for changes at the top this offseason didn't get their wish Friday afternoon when the club announced a new three-year deal for general manager Brian Cashman.
But more than a few of those fans, maybe more, also had Kevin Long in their sights, and came away pleased with the announcement that the longtime hitting coach had been fired.
"It was a struggle from April all the way to September,'' Cashman said. "Despite turning the roster over [at midseason], we still struggled from an offensive standpoint until the end . . . I think bringing a new perspective will better serve us as we continue to move forward. The one issue we couldn't fix was the offense.''
First-base coach Mick Kelleher, who also coached the infielders, also was fired. "I would not hold Mick Kelleher responsible for any defensive deficiencies,'' Cashman said. "That was personnel-related.''
Cashman said the remainder of the coaching staff is, as of now, "status quo,'' meaning pitching coach Larry Rothschild, bench coach Tony Peña and third-base coach Rob Thomson are safe. But it is expected that Mike Harkey, a close friend of Joe Girardi's, will be brought back as the bullpen coach, a position he held for six years before becoming the Diamondbacks' pitching coach this season. Current bullpen coach Gary Tuck, Girardi's bench coach when he managed the Marlins in 2006, could assume that position again and Peña could shift to first base.
One name to keep an eye on as the new hitting coach is Dante Bichette, a former hitting coach for the Rockies who is one of Girardi's best friends. Bichette's son, Dante Jr., is a third-base prospect in the Yankees' organization, and the senior Bichette was spotted throughout the Florida State League season in the stands at his son's games.
"I don't make changes lightly,'' Cashman said of the coaching-staff shakeup. But changes were deemed necessary after the Yankees struggled at the plate a second straight season. Long, exceedingly popular with his hitters, ultimately was deemed the reason for those struggles.
"He tried every tool in the toolbox,'' Cashman said, crediting Long's work ethic. "He publicly stated he tried everything and it wasn't sufficient. The effort was sufficient. The results weren't.''
Cashman said hitters could benefit from a new approach, especially against the defensive shifts utilized by just about every club. They gave plenty of Yankees fits, most prominently Mark Teixeira and Brian McCann.
"There's no doubt that hitters in today's environment are facing some really sophisticated run prevention ways the game has never seen before,'' Cashman said. "We're in a position where the analytics have proven certain guys have tendencies opposing defenses can take advantage of. It's a game of change. As the defense has changed, now offensive players that have been adversely affected by it have to adjust.''