TORONTO – He has been here through J.P. Ricciardi and Paul Godfrey; through Buck Martinez and Carlos Tosca and John Gibbons – twice! – and Cito Gaston and John Farrell and Paul Beeston and Alex Anthopoulos.
And through it all, Tony LaCava has been, in the words of Gibbons, “a stabilizing force around the organization … sometimes, a voice of reason.”
“Baseball’s a negative game in a lot of ways,” Gibbons – still the Toronto Blue Jays manager – said on Monday. “And Tony’s the ultimate optimist. You don’t find a lot of people like that in the game. I think he’s the perfect guy for them to put in place.”
LaCava was named interim general manager by incoming Blue Jays president and chief executive officer Mark Shapiro, who also announced at his introductory news conference that Gibbons will be back to manage the team in 2016 and that his entire coaching staff had been invited back. Gibbons said Monday that he anticipated all his coaches accepting the offer, and that he was looking forward to working with Shapiro.
The two men had what Gibbons said was a “good conversation” of about 15 to 20 minutes last week. He and Shapiro will have a lengthier discussion in the next few days, and Gibbons described the tone of the chat as “complimentary.” He is, of course, happy to be coming back; but in the next breath, Gibbons admits that he’s been around the game long enough to know how the business works. In other words, even though his contract contains a rolling extension for an extra year, he is prepared for the inevitable questions about a new guy coming in ultimately wanting his own guy, etc., etc.
“I’ve heard a lot of good things about Mark from people in the game,” said Gibbons. “I’ve met him before, when I was in spring training with the (Kansas City) Royals and we were playing the (Cleveland) Indians. I like what I heard from him, you know? He wants to build on what we did this year.”
What the Blue Jays did was lose the American League Championship Series in six games to the eventual World Series champion Royals. Just days after Josh Donaldson grounded out to snuff out the Blue Jays’ few embers of hope, general manager Alex Anthopoulos announced he had turned down a five-year contract extension worth between $8-10 million, saying he no longer found the job to be the right fit. In the process, Anthopoulos turned down the chance to serve under Shapiro, who was tabbed earlier in the season as Beeston’s replacement effective Nov. 1.
He also stunned his manager.
“It shocked everybody, to be honest with you,” Gibbons said. “Alex kept it pretty close to himself. I don’t think anybody around the team had any idea … things seemed perfect that month through the playoffs. I heard it the same time everybody else did: on a conference call with all the staff, clubhouse guys – everybody – on, I think, Monday. Alex was emotional, but he’s an emotional guy, anyway. He cares. The relationships he builds go much deeper than a relationship with a boss.”
If Gibbons knows any secrets about the Jays’ off-season plans, he’s keeping them close to the chest. His understanding is that the lineup will return mostly intact – “they’re all under contract,” he said – and he was open to the possibility of both Aaron Sanchez and Roberto Osuna moving into the starting rotation.
“I think it’s moving in that direction,” he said, “although the thing is, you do that and while you’re filling two holes in the rotation, you’re creating two holes in the bullpen.”
Gibbons watched the World Series – won in five games by the Royals – with a great deal of interest, for reasons beyond the fact that his Blue Jays team lost the ALCS to the Royals. He wouldn’t bite on the suggestion that perhaps his team could also have beaten the New York Mets – that they were in fact the second-best team in baseball – by saying even if he believed the Blue Jays were the best team in baseball “we didn’t play well enough to beat Kansas City.”
Gibbons was the Royals bench coach from 2008-2011, and saw some of the core players of the 2015 World Series champions as minor leaguers in spring training and major leaguers.
“It’s amazing what that team was able to pull off night after night after night,” Gibbons said of the Royals. “I mean, you watch it and you keep thinking it isn’t possible that it could happen that often. But it did.
“Everybody in baseball looks at things like that and thinks ‘Maybe we can borrow a little bit of this’ from the way a team plays or ‘maybe something else.’ But I don’t think you can copy what they do; they have the perfect individuals to play the style of baseball that they play. Those guys, like (Eric) Hosmer and (Salvador) Perez … there’s just something different about them, man. It’s a very different group of individuals – a very special group. And the thing is, they’re not going away any time, soon.”
Neither, it seems, is John Gibbons.