Arguably, the best hitting instructor in baseball is available after the Texas Rangers and coach Rudy Jaramillo agreed to part ways.
The Chicago Cubs certainly will have interest in the veteran coach, who has had 17 players win Silver Slugger Awards under his tutelage the past 10 years. According to sources, ownership uncertainty in Texas induced Rangers' officials to offer Jaramillo only a one-year contract for 2010. After that discussion, both sides agreed to part ways.
Jaramillo might have been the second-highest paid coach in baseball. St. Louis pitching coach Dave Duncan is believed to be making close to $1 million per year. Jaramillo's previous contract was rumored to be worth more than $650,000 per year.
The Cubs let two hitting instructors go in the 2009 season. Gerald Perry was replaced midseason by minor league hitting coach Von Joshua. General manager Jim Hendry told Joshua on Oct. 4 as the season ended that he'd be reassigned back to Triple-A Iowa next season.
Jaramillo will be an intriguing free-agent coach for other major league teams, including the Houston Astros, who have employed Jaramillo as a major league coach and as a minor league coach. The former Rangers hitting coach has helped dozens of players improve under his guidance. Coincidentally, troubled Cub outfielder Milton Bradley had his best year under Jaramillo's guidance in Texas in the 2008 season, when Bradley led the American League in on-base percentage and slugging percentage.
Among major league baseball people, Jaramillo's reputation is impeccable. Many former students of the veteran hitting coach contact him in the offseason to help correct flaws in their hitting mechanics before they report to spring training. The Cubs' offense needs some tweaking, after finishing eighth in runs scored and 11th in batting average. This was basically the same team that finished first in runs scored in 2008.
The Rangers did have a down year in batting average, finishing 11th out of 14 teams in hitting and striking out an AL-high 204 times. That aside, though, the best free agent in the 2010 offseason might indeed be Jaramillo, and it would be surprising if the Cubs did not react to that.