NEW YORK – Toronto Blue Jays general manager Ross Atkins eliminated the uncertainty about John Gibbons’ immediate future by declaring that the manager will finish out the 2018 season, with his status for 2019 to be determined later.
The decision ends two weeks of speculation that started with a report from Sportsnet colleague Jeff Blair that suggested last week’s homestand at Rogers Centre could be Gibbons’ last with the club.
While Atkins said afterwards that Gibbons maintained an active role in discussions about the Blue Jays’ future, the lack of a definitive statement led to a belief a change was imminent.
In an interview Friday, Atkins effectively killed the questions for the next six weeks, while leaving the longer-term implications open.
“We had a very, very candid discussion in Kansas City that was productive for both of us and just making sure that we were aligned, essentially,” Atkins told sportsnet.ca. “That’s never not been the case, but because of recent rumours that have come out, we had some really frank discussions about the future and ultimately decided he’s our manager. We’ll revisit at the end of the year what that means for going forward, but for 2018 he’ll remain our manager.”
Gibbons is under contract through 2019 with a club option for 2020. Asked what some of the considerations will be for next year, Atkins replied: “That will be continuing the dialogue about what’s best for him and the organization moving forward.”
A factor no doubt will be Gibbons’ comments to MLB Network Radio last week when he said the Blue Jays were “starting to get into a full-blown rebuild” and that “maybe they would benefit from getting a new fresh face that can grow with the young players and things like that.”
Certainly there is some logic in that approach as the Blue Jays continue to turn over the roster from the group that made consecutive trips to the American League Championship Series in 2015 and ’16 to a younger collection of players.
And at 56, Gibbons may not want to grind through a couple of growing-pain seasons in building to a new competitive window.
Whatever the case, the Blue Jays are now in position to orchestrate a more graceful transition with Gibbons that befits the second-longest serving and second winningest manager in franchise history.
It also keeps him from awkwardly dangling off a vine the way he has the past two weeks, breeding speculation and doubt while eroding trust.
“First and foremost this game is about the players and the fans, so the more they’re talking about Gibby and I is not good,” said Atkins. “We wanted to make sure the focus was on the players and us trying to win games, so how do we ensure his desires have been expressed and our desires have been expressed and that we understand where both sides are.”
Given recent events, right now it’s difficult to envision Gibbons returning as manager in 2019 and while clarity on that front will be needed sooner rather than later, a needless watch over what happens in the manager’s chair is off the table.
The Blue Jays can now more comfortably do background work on potential replacements while the sides can consider potential scenarios for 2019.
“We’ll be able to continue the discussion, John and I,” said Atkins. “We have an incredible relationship, it’s really, frankly, never been strained. We’ve always been able to have open lines of communication, very respectful, and I think a lot of him as a human being, as I’ve said over and over again, and will continue to say.
“It also goes without saying he’s had a very successful track record and will continue to. He’s got a lot to offer the game, he’s certainly been great for the Toronto Blue Jays, and will continue to be.”