The times are changing in Toronto. As the back-to-back ALCS teams from 2015 and 2016 have become a distant memory, we’ve shifted our focus to the prospects of the future. Speaking of that future, it appears that manager John Gibbons isn’t going to be a part of it.
Stephen Brunt spoke on Monday about why he believes that the Blue Jays are likely to move on from Gibbons prior to the 2019 season:
— Sportsnet (@Sportsnet) August 6, 2018
Brunt: “I agree with you. I think he’s done a very good job this year. If you look at what happened to that rotation right off the top, we all thought the rotation was going to be the strength of the team, and between the injuries and the under-performances and what he had to deal with. A bullpen that was cobbled together in the off-season with Seunghwan Oh, Clippard, and Axford, and a bunch of guys who weren’t sure things. And then he loses his closer to circumstances no one could have anticipated.
No they’re not a contending team but John Gibbons has had to do a lot. He’s had to dance a lot this year with a lineup that has been ever-changing. His best player, Josh Donaldson, has hardly played this year. So yeah I agree with you. I think John Gibbons has always been a bit underrated by the Blue Jays fanbase in a way because he isn’t a self-aggrandizing guy. He doesn’t go out and pretend to be the smartest guy in the room. He is what he is. I think John is a really solid guy. I think he handles the bullpen really, really well which is 80 percent of what a manager does. That being said I don’t think anyone thinks he’s going to be the manager in 2019. There is a big turning of the page happening here.
The team is going to look very different in 2019. Not that Ross Atkins and company have been desperately looking for a chance to get rid of him. I think they’ve come to a pretty decent understanding and accommodation given the fact that they didn’t hire him. But this is the moment when they put their stamp on the team in terms of the manager. I think you’ll see a more new school analytics guy. Look at the guys who are succeeding in the league right now. I think John knows that. I think John knew that two months ago. I think the only question is whether they do that during the season or whether they wait until the end of the season. I’m not sure what you gain by doing it earlier but that may be the way it happens.
It’ll almost be a mutual parting of the ways. I don’t think there’ll be any bad blood here. This has been a really good run and there were circumstances beyond anyone’s control here but things are going to be different heading into 2019 and beyond with new players and it’s probably time for a fresh voice in that room.
Gibbons signed a two-year contract extension prior to the 2017 season with a club option for a third season. So, as it stands right now, he is signed to be the manager of the team in 2019. Back when that deal was signed, Russell Martin had an excellent quote that I think very accurately sums up what Gibbons is as a manager.
“The guys love him,” said Martin. “He’s easy to work with. He keeps the guys level-headed. He knows how to work with the different egos on this team and he does a fantastic job of that. He’s almost a father figure to us.”
Gibby has had a very interesting career with this organization. He was hired by J.P. Riccardi mid-way through the 2004 season to replace Carlos Tosca as the team’s manager. He would manage the team until 2008 when he was fired and replaced by Cito Gaston who was making his second go-around with the team. Then, in 2013, Alex Anthopolous brought Gibbons back to replace John Farrell who left to pursue his “dream job” with the Boston Red Sox.
It was a very shocking decision that Anthopolous brought in Gibbons, who many remembered as being the hot-headed manager who got into fights with players, to lead the team that went all-in after acquiring Jose Reyes, Mark Buehrle, and R.A. Dickey in the off-season.
The 2013 season was obviously a huge flop, but the team stuck by Gibby, who had suddenly become a very endearing player-first manager, and he ultimately ended up leading them to to the playoffs in 2015. When Mark Shapiro and Ross Atkins replaced Anthopolous that summer, it seemed inevitable that Gibby would be let go. But the new front office also stuck by him and he helped lead the team back to the ALCS in 2016.
So, basically, we went from this forgettable staple from the dark angry bird logo era who would toss fists with Ted Lilly to this calm, relaxed, lovable personality from the resurgence era who became a fan favourite. It’s honestly like John Gibbons round one and John Gibbons round two aren’t the same person.
But here we are trudging our way through the second of back-to-back miserable, injury-riddled seasons with all eyes on the minor league system and what lies ahead.
Based on what Brunt said, it does seem inevitable that the Jays are going to move on from Gibbons in 2019. The team is moving in a new direction and, as Brunt suggests, could use a new voice, perhaps with more of a new age, analytical slant, to lead the Large Adult Sons as they break into the league. We saw that in the off-season when the Red Sox, Yankees, and Phillies hired Alex Cora, Aaron Boone, and Gabe Kapler, leading a new generation of managers into the Major Leagues.
I think this has kind of been the Shapiro front office’s plan all along. They were cognizant of the optics of coming in after the magical 2015 and changing things up so they let that core, including Gibbons, continue to roll and put a modest effort into continued contention in 2017 and 2018 with the ultimate priority being the future.
I think Gibby has done an excellent job managing this team. Not only is he a fucking gem with great quotes and a hilarious and relatable demeanour, but he’s always stood up for his players and, in turn, he’s given a unique set of individuals an opportunity to thrive.
I can empathize with wanting to move in a new direction, especially when it comes to bringing in a manager who’s more analytically inclined as we know that’s a priority of the front office. That said, letting Gibbons go before the end of the season would be absolute trash. Gibbons has been a great father figure for the players on the team for quite some time and he’s done an excellent job navigating through extremely challenging seasons in back-to-back years. He’s second all-time in Blue Jays franchise wins as a manager and is one of only three managers, Bobby Cox and Cito Gaston being the others, who has led the team to the playoffs. Firing him mid-season when he most certainly isn’t the reason this team sucks ass would be an unnecessary slap on the face to somebody who, in my mind, is a franchise icon.