Among the Cardinals offseason triumphs a year ago was the return of their secret weapon, Jose Oquendo.
Known as a player for has ability to play competently at multiple positions, he developed himself as a teacher in the mold of the organization’s late minor league instructor, George Kissell.
So when Oquendo, the Cardinals’ third base coach, was lost for 2016 and ‘17 with a painful knee condition, it wasn’t hard to identify the the cause of the team’s sudden decline in defense and base running. Both got marginally better in 2018 with Oquendo back in the dugout and third base coach’s box, but still not enough to end the 88-win Cardinals’ postseason drought.
The Cardinals announced Tuesday that Oquendo will be gone again next season. Instead, he’ll retreat to his family home near the team’s spring training complex in Jupiter, Florida to resume a more Kissell-like role.
“There’s no doubt he’s going to be a loss,” President of Baseball Operations John Mozeliak told mlb.com during a Busch Stadium press conference. “I’m glad he’s staying in our organization. I think he brings value to our Minor Leagues, and he can help keep a pulse of what’s going on.”
Oquendo’s coaching tenure goes back 17 years to former manager Tony LaRussa. His return last season, after multiple knee surgeries over the preceding 24 months, was part of the comprehensive reboot of the coaching staff to support Mike Matheny, who has since been replaced by Mike Shildt as manager.
Willie McGee, the 1985 National League MVP and fan favorite, was part of that overhaul and will return to the position in 2019, as will pitching coach Mike Maddux, bullpen coach Bryan Eversgerd, and assistant hitting coach Mark Budaska.
Oquendo’s departure from the bench, however, necessitates more shuffling.
Ron “Pop” Warner, who Shildt appointed bench coach in July, will take over at third base. Oliver Marmol will move from first base coach to bench coach.
Remaining vacant are the hitting coach and first base coach positions. Stubby Clapp, who has led the triple-A Memphis Redbirds to consecutive Pacific Coast League championships, is a presumptive candidate for either of those roles, but rumors have him connected to the Toronto Blue Jays and their search for a new manager.
Clapp’s departure from Memphis, one way or the other, will have a cascading effect throughout the remainder of the organization.