TORONTO – Impressed by the way the Tampa Bay Rays use data in their decision-making on and off the field, the Toronto Blue Jays hired Charlie Montoyo away from their American League East rivals to be their new manager.
Montoyo agreed to a three-year contract with a club option for the 2022 season.
The decision, perhaps the most important made in Ross Atkins’ three years as GM thus far, comes on the same day Rocco Baldelli, another finalist from the analytically advanced club, was hired by the Minnesota Twins to replace the fired Paul Molitor.
David Bell, hired Sunday by the Cincinnati Reds, Chicago Cubs bench coach Brandon Hyde, and Houston Astros bench coach Joe Espada were the other known finalists for the Blue Jays’ vacancy.
Montoyo, a 53-year-old from Florida, Puerto Rico who was in Toronto on Tuesday for an in-person interview, takes over from the departed John Gibbons and will give a rebuilding Blue Jays team a new and much different leader.
He also gives them a bilingual voice at the helm at a time when young Latino players like Vladimir Guerrero Jr., and Lourdes Gurriel Jr., are on the verge of becoming key parts of the franchise.
An infielder, Montoyo appeared in four games for the Montreal Expos during the 1993 season, part of a 10-year pro career that started as a sixth-round pick by the Milwaukee Brewers in 1987 and included time at triple-A Ottawa during his final season as a player.
He joined the Rays immediately after and proceeded to manage at every level of the organization, including eight seasons at triple-A Durham, winning seven South Division titles in the International League.
The Rays added him to their big-league staff as third base coach in 2015 and he served three years in that role until his promotion to bench coach this season.
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.”
Similarly, being able to better use all the different pieces of information the front office can offer a coaching staff would be pivotal, and where the person worked would be more important than any pre-existing relationship.
The hiring process gave the Blue Jays a chance to peek behind the curtain of a number of different organizations. Atkins has described the Astros and the Rays as two teams “a little bit ahead of the curve” in integrating information for use on the field into their in-game decision making, so it’s no surprise three of the finalists came from those organizations.
Baldelli, the immensely talented centre-fielder whose career was cut short by injuries, has 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 Rays first base coach in 2015 before moving into the major-league field co-ordinator role this season.
Espada joined the Astros as bench coach this year after Alex Cora was hired to manage the Boston Red Sox. He 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.
He was the Marlins’ third-base coach from 2010-13.
Hyde, meanwhile, 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.
The Blue Jays parted ways with the beloved Gibbons – who joined Bobby Cox and Cito Gaston as the only managers in franchise history to lead the club into the post-season – after a miserable 2018 season.