D-backs close to hiring Duncan to oversee pitching
Longtime coach for La Russa set to work with hurlers throughout organization
ORLANDO, Fla. -- The D-backs are on the verge of signing Dave Duncan as their top pitching consultant, Kevin Towers told MLB.com on Tuesday during the second day of the General Managers and Owners Meetings.
The longtime pitching coach under manager Tony La Russa with the White Sox, A's and Cardinals would oversee the pitching for the entire Arizona organization and help in the selection of a Major League pitching coach to replace the dismissed Charles Nagy, Towers said.
"I'd say we're on the 5-yard line on this and that there's a very good chance he's going to be with us in a capacity," Towers said of Duncan. "It won't be as our pitching coach, but he'll be the pitching consultant and special assistant to the GM. With Dave, he's going to set his own schedule and it will depend on what he wants to do and what he's capable of doing.
"During Spring Training, be available to work with pitchers, catchers and pitching coaches as they're preparing for a game. Breaking down video of pitchers we might be considering for the Draft. Plus, targeting guys in our system and getting his input -- who he likes, who is close."
Towers also said that his search for a power-hitting corner outfielder in the trade or free-agent market might be tempered by a positive medical report on the condition of Cody Ross, who has progressed enough from surgery on a fractured right hip that he may be ready to rejoin the team for this coming season.
Ross fractured and dislocated the hip on Aug. 11 at Chase Field while running out a grounder to first base. He was carted off the field after his spikes caught in the dirt. He fell to the ground and the hip popped out of the socket, shattering a bone that forced reconstructive surgery.
"Our trainers are saying on Cody that he's ahead of schedule, so it's looking more and more like he'll be ready to start the season," Towers said. "All I know is that it's full weight-bearing now, that he's able to walk. I don't think that he's done anything baseball specific in the way of running, but barring any setbacks, he should be there for the start of Spring Training."
Ross signed a three-year contract as a free agent last offseason that could be worth as much as $34.5 million with a fourth-year buyout. Because of various injuries, he played in only 94 games this past season, hitting .278 with eight homers and 38 RBIs.
Towers had said that his top priorities this offseason would be to obtain a front-of-the-rotation starter and add a power-hitting corner outfielder. Both spots are open because Towers traded Justin Upton to the Braves last January and Ian Kennedy to the Padres at the July 31 non-waiver Trade Deadline. To that end, he's done his due diligence by talking to a number of fellow GMs here this week, setting the groundwork for possible future deals.
"We've been targeting clubs that we feel we match up well with," Towers said. "We've talked less here probably with agents. Players that we're targeting are probably going to be frontline people, so it's going to take multiple players from our side."
The D-backs have a starting staff anchored by young left-handers Patrick Corbin and Wade Miley, and right-handers Trevor Cahill and Brandon McCarthy. Left-hander Tyler Skaggs bounced between the Majors and Triple-A Reno last season, and Double-A sensation Archie Bradley has been invited to camp with Towers hopeful he'll make the team.
Towers has been methodically replacing coaches since the end of the season, when he dismissed Nagy and first-base coach Steve Sax, and hitting coach Don Baylor left for the same post with the Angels.
Adding the 68-year-old Duncan -- a catcher by trade -- in any capacity should have a major impact on the organization's pitching staff from the big leagues to Minors. Duncan had a long and successful career with La Russa, joining him in Chicago in 1983. Duncan left the Cardinals indefinitely in 2012 to aid his wife, Jeanine, who had cancer and passed away this June.
Towers said the formal announcement of Duncan joining the D-backs is pending his signing a contract and passing a background check.
"I'd like this to happen sooner rather than later, because I'd like to have him involved next week as part of the interview process for a pitching coach," Towers said. "Gibby [Manager Kirk Gibson] is going to be back on Monday. We've gotten permission to talk to four or five guys externally, as well as a couple of internal candidates, who we haven't reached out to yet. Hopefully we'll have one hired by the end of next week."
Barry M. Bloom is a national reporter for MLB.com and writes an MLBlog, Boomskie on Baseball. Follow @boomskie on Twitter. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.