Larry Rothschild has exercised his option to remain as the Cubs pitching coach for another season. Apparently this means that if it is OK with the new manager, he gets to stay. One of the odd things about Jim Hendry’s tenure as GM is the number of no-trade contracts and player’s and coach’s options he has handed out.

Generally speaking, I would suppose that these are not a good thing, especially with respect to coaches. One would suppose that team management would not want to tie the field manager’s hands by saddling him with holdover coaches, but Rothschild has just completed his ninth season with the Cubs and, if retained, will be working on his fourth manager in 2011. So it goes in Cubland.

It is always difficult to evaluate a coach’s influence. There are so many variables and so much of pitching is dependent on factors outside the coach’s control, as well as the material he has to work with. Still, nine years is a long time, and I think we can reach some conclusions, or at least some intuitions.

I would argue that there are two key factors to consider in evaluating any pitching coach, and these are the potential of the players he has to work with and whether they improve or regress under his tutelage.

Judged on these criteria, one would have to put Rothschild somewhere in the middle of the pack, nothing special and certainly not incompetent, but not an invariably positive influence either. In other words, not a game changer by any means.

On the talent level, you would have to say that throughout Rothschild’s tenure, Cubs pitching has been above average, sometimes dominant, sometimes just pretty good, but even in off years, such as the last two, not at all bad and probably not the reason the team disappointed.

So what has Rothschild been able to do with these guys? In 2002 the Cubs had a pretty bad team. Their top starters were Kerry Wood and Matt Clement. Mark Prior was a rookie, as was Carlos Zambrano. Nobody had a standout year, but whoever was responsible for moving Zambrano into the rotation deserves some credit here.

The following season, 2003, the Cubs had one of the best rotations in all of baseball in Wood, Prior, Zambrano and Clement. Over the course of the next few years, Wood and Prior broke down, Wood for the second time and Clement returned to mediocrity before being dumped off to the Red Sox before he too broke down.

Zambrano was the only one of the four to perform consistently well over the entire span and his performance, though tolerable even at its lowest points, declined each year under Rothschild until his dramatic upswing at the end of this season.

Cubs pitching after 2004 was pretty much indifferent for the next few years with the exception of Zambrano. The big news focused on the struggles of Wood and Prior to regain their health.

The Cubs farm system produced little of note. Nothing to brag about here, though eventually the Cubs were able to revive Wood’s career for a second time. They also managed to turn Dempster back into a starting pitcher, so some credit is due on that score.

In 2007, the Cubs went out into the free agent market and acquired Jason Marquis and Ted Lilly, neither of whom were coming off career years. Lilly had several good seasons. Marquis was mediocre to pretty awful. Beginning around the time Piniella was hired, the farm system started to produce some prospects, nothing of the caliber of the early 2000s when they brought up Prior and Zambrano, but some decent kids.

So what is Rothschild’s record with this material? Fair to middling. Sean Marshall came up in 2006. The Cubs never seemed to be able to figure out what to do with him, trying him first as a starter on a fairly limited basis. He has finally realized his potential as a setup man in 2010. Rich Hill showed up in 2005 and had a breakout year in 2007 when he won 11 games. After that, he lost his command. Maybe not Rothschild’s fault, but not a feather in his cap either.

Carlos Marmol broke in in 2006 as a starter, but moving him to the bullpen where he has been a dominant force since 2007 has to be a plus for Cubs management. Jeff Samardzija was rushed up in 2008, rather as Andrew Cashner was this season. He has been awful ever since and probably has no future.

The Cubs cycled through a number of middling prospects during the Piniella era, among them Sean Gallagher and Kevin Hart. They also brought in Rich Harden as a free agent, and his career was mediocre as well.

I’m not saying that all these guys had more in them than they showed on the field, just that it is at least more probable than not that a really great coach would have achieved better results, especially with the veterans, that you would expect more from a guy to whom you had committed nine years.

As for the current crop of youth, the jury is still out on Coleman and Cashner. They have potential, and Coleman in particular could blossom into a back of the rotation starter. The discovery of Wells was a big plus, though he suffered through a sophomore season that does not argue in Rothschild’s favor.

The relief pitchers were a major disappointment in 2010 after showing promise in the minors and the previous year. Caridad, like Guzman, was hurt. Berg, Russell, and a host of others regressed.

Gorzelanny, I would argue, stayed about the same, a middling fifth starter. People forget that he won 14 games for the Pirates several years ago. The one real credit on Rothschild’s blotter in recent years has to be the revival of Carlos Silva’s career, something no one expected.

According to Paul Sullivan, Rothschild has some sort of special bond with Carlos Zambrano. You sure would not know it to look at the results, and if he had anything to do with demoting him to the bullpen, well, with friends like that, you don’t need any enemies, do you?

Also, I thought his remarks in the Sullivan article about Zambrano were ungracious, especially for a guy who has an allegedly special relationship. Maybe he has seen these streaks before, but mentoring is all about instilling confidence. You can think it, but you don’t say it.

Rothschild has spent most of the past two seasons serving as an ancient-looking bookend to the worn-out Lou Piniella. He’s only in his fifties, but he looks like he is a hundred. Nine years is a long time with this organization, especially if you have little to show for it and lots of regrets.

You cannot say the Cubs will be worse-off if the new manager keeps Larry around, but, like most fans, I would really like to see a new face and new ideas. Dumping him would not be the end of the world and might signal a change of tone.

The Ivy Covered Burial Ground

Read more MLB news on