Bit by bit, piece by piece, Tony La Russa’s coaching staff is slowly coming together. When it’s complete, the White Sox’ dugout will have a different look than when last seen during a loss to the Athletics in the American League wild-card series.
Gone for sure from fired manager Rick Renteria’s staff are pitching coach Don Cooper, third-base coach Nick Capra and assistant hitting coach Scott Coolbaugh. Cooper and Capra were let go with a year left on their contracts, while Coolbaugh, after one year alongside hitting coach Frank Menechino, bolted to become hitting coach for the Tigers and manager AJ Hinch.
To be determined from Renteria’s holdovers is the status of bullpen coach Curt Hasler, bench coach Joe McEwing and first-base coach Daryl Boston, although most believe Hasler and Boston are returning. Menechino will be back after his first year on the job.
McEwing was Renteria’s bench coach, and it’s not out of the question — should he return — that McEwing would coach third base, a job he handled on former Sox manager Robin Ventura’s staff. McEwing, who played for La Russa’s Cardinals in 1998-99, was also in charge of infielders, which is a forte of incoming bench coach Miguel Cairo.
La Russa, who has a Dec. 28 pre-trial conference date in Maricopa County (Arizona) court for DUI charges stemming from an arrest Feb. 24, hasn’t been heard from since his introductory Zoom call with media Oct. 29, the day he was rehired to manage the Sox. Neither has general manager Rick Hahn, so none of the changes, aside from the exits of Cooper and Coolbaugh, will be official until announced, probably next week.
The most significant additions are the hiring of 37-year-old pitching coach Ethan Katz and Cairo, who is 46. Katz is less than half La Russa’s age (76) and is 27 years younger than Cooper. And Cairo, who played for La Russa on the Cardinals during his 17-year career as an infielder with nine teams, is 30 years younger than the manager.
Katz was an assistant pitching coach with the Giants last season who helped Sox ace Lucas Giolito when he went outside the organization for help two years. Katz was Giolito’s high school coach and a voice Giolito leaned on during his transformation from one of the worst starters in baseball in 2018 to one of the best in 2019 and 2020.
Katz coached in the Angels and Mariners minor-league systems and was hired by the Giants as assistant minor-league pitching coordinator in 2019. He was promoted to assistant pitching coach last December.
Known as a soft-spoken and calm communicator, Katz will bring more data-driven, innovative elements to the position than Cooper.
“He is very well equipped to do this job,” Giants manager Gabe Kapler said recently on The Score.
Cairo spent the last three years as a minor-league infield coordinator with the Yankees and the previous five as a special assistant to the general manager with the Reds. He “will bring a lot of enthusiasm to that ballclub, and he knows baseball,” said former Sox manager Ozzie Guillen, a fellow Venezuelan who was Cairo’s teammate on the Rays in 2000 during Guillen’s last season as a player.
“I don’t think Tony La Russa needs a bench coach, but Miguel Cairo will be another plus to this ballclub,” Guillen said.