Padres manager Andy Green said the timing of the decision should allow Zinter to begin his pursuit of other opportunities. Green also spoke to the personal difficulty of the move.
"It was right at the top of the list of the hardest decisions I've ever had to make," said Green, whose relationship with Zinter dates back to their time as players and coaches in the D-backs organization. "I just, deep down, held a conviction that if we were going to get to the next level as an organization, we were going to need another voice in that seat, as difficult a decision as that is."
Zinter was hired by San Diego as hitting coach following the 2015 season after previously serving as assistant hitting coach in Houston in '15. He began his coaching career as a hitting coach in the D-backs' system from '08-11 before spending '12-14 as the Indians' Minor League hitting coordinator.
Featuring the league's youngest offense, the Padres have struggled this season. Their .233 batting average and .298 on-base percentage are the worst in baseball by a wide margin. (Though they've slugged slightly better at .397, ranking ahead of the Pirates and Giants.) It's very likely to end up as the second season in a row that the Friars have sat at the bottom of the big league rankings in batting average and OBP. They're last in runs this year, too.
Much of that isn't attributable to Zinter. San Diego's roster currently features only two players -- Wil Myers and Yangervis Solarte -- who have previously put together qualifying Major League seasons at the plate. Seven Padres hitters have fewer than two years of big league service time.
"We're realistic. We know we have talented young hitters, so there are going to be some growing pains," said Padres general manager A.J. Preller. "But ultimately, just sitting down, weighing out what we were looking for at that spot, we decided we were looking for a different voice there going forward."
Now, the search begins for a replacement. The Padres' next hitting coach will be their fourth in the past five years.
"We'll start the search, really, right now, gathering a list of candidates, doing our homework as far as guys who we feel like could be a potential fit," said Preller. "We'll then let the regular season unfold, and once the season ends, we'll be able to hit the ground running, sit down with some different guys. There's no set timeframe to find the right guy, but it gives us an opportunity to get a head start."
The move came as a surprise in San Diego's clubhouse, which seemed to universally respect Zinter.
"That guy meant a lot to my career," said Padres catcher Austin Hedges. "Starting last year, he rebuilt my swing. I owe a lot to that guy. The game's a business. I understand it's a business. I think we're moving forward now. … I love the guy. I went to war with him. He meant a lot to my career, like I said. I wish nothing but the best for him moving forward."
Added Myers: "He's a great person. He's a guy that cares a ton about what's going on here, he cares a ton about hitters, he's really invested in every single one of our at-bats. ... Everyone in here has a ton of respect for Z. He's a great guy, he's a guy that everybody knows he has our backs. So it's tough to see a guy like that go, but it's just the way the business goes sometimes."
During his pregame media session, Green harped on the team's poor on-base percentage -- though he didn't place that blame on Zinter. Organizationally, Green said, the Padres have increased their focus on reaching base at a higher clip. He's hopeful that translates better at the big league level.
Several of the club's presumed top run producers have struggled this year, most notably Myers (.233/.319/.441) and Hunter Renfroe (.230/.285/.443), who was recently sent to Triple-A El Paso. That said, Zinter has also presided over breakout seasons from Jose Pirela and Cory Spangenberg.
"He's worked hard, and he's helped us take steps forward," Green said of Zinter. "He's done nothing wrong. He's extremely passionate, and all of those players in that clubhouse know the depth of the level he cares for them. That's what makes it even more hard. And it makes it hard on them to do that in the middle of the season. But it seemed right to do it now, to give him the opportunity to pursue his next opportunity."