Bell joined the Pirates last season as the team’s hitting coach after Gregg Ritchie departed to become head coach for George Washington University’s baseball team.
There is no official word as to why Bell departed, but he has wanted to become a manager and Reds manager Bryan Price was pitching coach for the Arizona Diamondbacks in 2006 when Bell was bench coach.
With this reported vacancy, the Pirates now have to find a replacement. The favorite has to be Jeff Branson, who served as the assistant hitting coach. The Pirates did improve offensively last season; still, I encourage the Pirates to venture out and try to find other candidates.
My choice would be Freddy Sanchez. This would be a similar hire to Jay Bell. Sanchez was never known for his power, but could put any ball into play and was very well liked in his time with the Pirates. Sanchez has over 1,000 hits in his 10-year career, although his 2011 season was cut short due to injury and he has not returned to major league baseball since.
Fans in Pittsburgh remember 2006, when Sanchez made the all-star game at PNC Park and won the National League batting title with a .344 average. That year he also had 85 runs batted in and 53 doubles.
Sanchez will turn 36 in December and may still try to play, but his injuries may derail that. While he also is unproven as a coach, he was a leader of a Pirates team that like today’s 25-man roster was young and eager to compete. Sanchez could still be a leader of sorts as he won a ring in 2010 and would have the players’ respect.
Sanchez also could help a variety of guys. Sanchez could definitely impact Neil Walker and Pedro Alvarez. Walker had a lot of inconsistencies with the bat, especially during Spring Training. Sanchez may be able to make Walker a more consistent presence. His bat was sorely missed in the postseason.
With Alvarez, you have a player who normally will strike out or get an extra-base hit of some kind. Sanchez could make Alvarez a bit more patient at the plate. In his prime, Sanchez dominated left-handed pitching and while Alvarez has improved in that regard, Sanchez may be able to help him get more hits against lefties.
All in all, the Sanchez move may be a bit outside of the box, but what do you have to lose? You would either keep Branson or find another more experienced mind to assist Sanchez. The effect he could have on an improving audience would make it worth a shot.
Ultimately the ball is in Steady Freddy’s court. Realistically he won’t play in the majors again, and he has to see that. A return to Pittsburgh would be welcomed by his family, the Pirates and the fans.