Should John Gibbons Take the Fall for the Toronto Blue Jays?
As the Toronto Blue Jays head towards another post-season on the outside, the fate of manager John Gibbons has once again become a topic of debate in the city.
Should he take the fall for the Jays’ disappointing finish this season?
Unless there’s a sudden reversal in the standings, Toronto will miss the playoffs for the 21st consecutive season. Of course, none of this was supposed to happen.
Sep 15, 2014; Baltimore, MD, USA; Toronto Blue Jays manager John Gibbons (5) walks off the field after removing relief pitcher Aaron Loup (not pictured) from the game in the seventh inning against the Baltimore Orioles at Oriole Park at Camden Yards. Baltimore Orioles defeated Toronto Blue Jays 5-2. Mandatory Credit: Tommy Gilligan-USA TODAY Sports
The Jays were rebuilt to win the division and the World Series last season with the blockbuster additions of Jose Reyes, Mark Buehrle, Josh Johnson, R.A. Dickey and Melky Cabrera. That was the plan anyway. Instead, they’ve largely been defined by inconsistency, injury and immaturity over the last two seasons with back Gibbons at the helm.
When Gibbons was announced as the new manager of the Jays in the off-season of 2013, there was some immediate outcry from the fan base. After all, Gibbons was an unlikely choice to lead the revamped team and he didn’t exactly impress many people in his first stint as manager between 2004-2008. Ignoring the fact he ranks second in all-time in wins as team manager, it felt for some (critical) fans like the Jays were trying to move forward by dipping back into their past.
In other words, the decision made absolutely no sense to them.
It would be an understatement to say Toronto and Gibbons in particular left the entire baseball world scratching their heads last season. Projected to win the American League East and challenge for the World Series, the Jays finished dead last in their division at 74-88, missing the playoffs by 17.5 games if you count only the final Wild Card spot. This wasn’t enough to cost Gibbons his job, but it did put him under pressure to turn things around this season.
Unfortunately, the current season has been a mixed bag of success and failure. For every May (21-9) that ignites the passion of the fans, there’s an August (9-17) that brings them crashing back down to Earth. In this context, it’s understandable why Gibbons would (once again) become the target of criticism for angry fans. Someone has to take the fall and he seems like the right candidate.
While I can’t deny or change the desire for change on the club, I don’t think Gibbons should be blamed entirely for the team’s struggles. He’s certainly made his fair share of mistakes this season, pulling Marcus Stroman early in favour of Dustin McGowan or using Dalton Pompey as a late pinch runner for Ryan Goins, but it’s hard for anyone to avoid making some mistakes in a 162-game season.
Jun 17, 2014; Bronx, NY, USA; Toronto Blue Jays manager John Gibbons (5) relieves starting pitcher Marcus Stroman (54) during the fourth inning against the New York Yankees at Yankee Stadium. New York Yankees won 3-1. Mandatory Credit: Anthony Gruppuso-USA TODAY Sports
On the flip side, Gibbons has done a decent job managing the swarm of injuries this season. The Jays have essentially been playing without their regular second baseman Maicer Izturis (remember him?) all season. This, if anything, has underscored the team’s lack of bench depth (There’s a structural problem here, not a managerial one). Add the injuries to Jose Bautista, Edwin Encarnacion, Adam Lind, Brett Lawrie, Melky Cabrera, Brandon Morrow, Steve Delabar and Casey Janssen – injuries that all vary in terms of length and impact on the offence versus the defence – and it seems like a miracle the team is still playing above .500.
(These players, by the way, represent the core of the current roster. Try playing without them and see how well you fare.)
The (expected) injury to Morrow was especially problematic. It forced the Jays to tinker on the fly with a starting rotation that was already seen as weak heading into the season. (Why put yourself in this position anyway? No one was really surprised to see Morrow get injured.) Forget veterans like Dickey, Buehrle and J.A. Happ – it has been the youngsters Drew Hutchison and Stroman who’ve seemed to carry the team at times. No one expected this.
In fact, I would give Gibbons credit for how he’s handled all of the young players on the team this year. Stroman and Hutchison, notwithstanding their ongoing ups and downs, have been shown tremendous confidence by the coaching staff and should form key parts of the future staring rotation while Aaron Sanchez and Daniel Norris were both given quick introductions to MLB baseball. Gibbons even sent the right message to Kevin Pillar, who felt entitled (!) to playing time earlier in the season.
September 18, 2012; Bronx, NY, USA; Toronto Blue Jays general manager Alex Anthopoulos speaks during a press conference addressing offensive comments written on the eye black of infielder Yunel Escobar (not pictured) before a game against the New York Yankees at Yankee Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports
I don’t want to deny Gibbons his fair share of the blame, but the criticism should be directed mainly at general manager Alex Anthopoulos and ownership in my opinion. They were the ones inactive on trade deadline day when the Jays still had a legitimate chance of making the post-season, and they’re the ones who thought Danny Valencia and Nolan Reimold were sufficient additions to the team.
He can only manage the mess handed to him by Anthopoulos and company, and here he’s done a decent job.
Someone should be fired, but it’s the guy upstairs, not the one sitting on the bench.