TORONTO – Houston Astros bench coach Joe Espada is in Toronto to interview for the Blue Jays’ managerial vacancy, the latest step in the ongoing process to find John Gibbons’ replacement.
Espada is one of what was believed to be up to five finalists for the position, a group also thought to include Rocco Baldelli, the Tampa Bay Rays’ major-league field co-ordinator; Brandon Hyde, the Chicago Cubs’ bench coach; and David Bell, the former San Francisco Giants farm director now off the table after being named manager of the Cincinnati Reds on Sunday.
The Los Angeles Angels also hired a new manager Sunday, choosing Brad Ausmus as Mike Scoiscia’s replacement, leaving the Blue Jays, Minnesota Twins, Texas Rangers and Baltimore Orioles as the clubs still seeking a skipper.
Espada, a native of Santurce, Puerto Rico, replaced Alex Cora as bench coach with the Astros this year after the Boston Red Sox named Cora their manager. The 43-year-old spent the previous three seasons as the New York Yankees’ third base coach after serving as a pro scout for them in 2014.
A second round pick of the Oakland Athletics in 1996 who topped out at triple-A, Espada cut his coaching teeth with the Marlins, starting out as a hitting coach at single-A Jupiter in 2006 before being promoted to minor-league infield co-ordinator in 2008.
The Blue Jays seem to hold the Astros and Tampa Bay Rays in particular high regard, with GM Ross Atkins saying during his season end availability that in terms of integrating information into their decision making, both clubs are “a little bit ahead of the curve.”
Baldelli, the immensely talented centre-fielder whose career was cut short by injuries, offers an intriguing blend of front office and coaching experience, having spent four years as a special assistant in baseball operations focused on scouting and player development before returning to uniform.
He took over as first base coach in 2015 before moving into the major-league field co-ordinator role this season.
Hyde got into coaching after a four-year minor-league career, working five seasons in the Marlins system before being promoted to bench coach of the big-league club. He joined the Cubs in 2012 as minor-league field co-ordinator and was named manager Rick Renteria’s bench coach in 2014.
When Joe Maddon took over as Cubs manager in 2015, Hyde stayed on as first base coach, before being moved back to bench coach this year.
At season’s end, Atkins said “tough, smart and passionate,” would be three of the traits he’ll be looking for in the next Blue Jays manager. “Those are the overarching themes as I think about what it means to lead an environment in here to sustain championship-level expectations, understanding what it takes for communication to keep not just 25-man roster, but also the 40-man roster, the 200 minor-league players, the 100-plus scouts, the 100-plus coaches and medical staff people pulling in one direction and feeling connected. That person has to be an organizational leader and spokesperson, not just a leader of the 25-man clubhouse.”