The feeling that John Gibbons should be fired after presiding over an utterly disastrous 2013 Toronto Blue Jays campaign is starting to gain steam.
So much so that on a recent broadcast of Blue Jays Central I was asked if Gibbons should get the axe.
My answer: yes, but not without a few points of contention.
When Gibbons was brought in to manage the 2013 Blue Jays, he was an accessory after the fact. This Jays club is Alex Anthopoulos’ baby.
Anthopoulos made the major trades without an active manager’s input. Anthopoulos decided where to spend the money, who would make up the rotation and who would be traded. Then, after the dust settled, he went out and found a manager to steer the ship he built.
You’ve heard all the common clichés about what managers are hired to do: light fires under asses, take charge of locker rooms, create winning cultures. I agree with all of it, except when that’s not what they’re hired to do.
With respect to Anthopoulos’ plan, I don’t think Gibbons was ever meant to come in and inject his personal tastes into the club. I think he was selected because he fit the design set out for the club before his arrival.
When spring training 2013 started, the thinking around the club was that Gibby was going to be the easygoing players’ manager who would facilitate a comfortable environment for a club composed of veterans and all-stars.
Newly assembled free agent vets and stars can go through growing pains as they settle into their new roles. That raised a lot of questions. Who was going to be the new leader?
Was Jose Bautista going to be upstaged by one of the many new stars? Would that create friction? Would the new egos gel together? Would they become the Miami Marlins of Toronto if managed by another wild-card personality like Ozzie Guillen?
Given the track record of the club’s newly acquired talent, Gibbons, a hands-off, “let the boys play”-style manager seemed a logical choice. No one could have predicted the epic implosion they’ve become.
Well, almost nobody.
John Farrell, the 2012 manager of the Blue Jays and present Boston Red Sox skipper — on pace to win Manager of the Year, no less — recently said the Jays have a tools-based scouting approach, focusing mostly on scouting skills and not on player development.
That comment is open to interpretation since proper “player development” is hardly a clear-cut phrase, one usually defined by winning and, overall, seems credible only when said by managers leading their respective divisions in wins, and laughable by those who are at the bottom … which is where the Blue Jays are.
But, if Farrell’s comments weren’t true, why is it that the Jays are doing such a good job of making them look the part? The current Jays are a tools-rich team that can’t clutch hit or play fundamentally sound baseball.
They keep getting reinforced by raw talent that isn’t ready to contribute consistently at the major league level. For goodness sakes, Sunday, in their 2-1 win over the Astros, they had to pinch hit a backup second baseman for their starting catcher because he couldn’t be trusted to get a sacrifice bunt down.
But proper player development is hardly unique to Farrell. Let’s parallel another example: Joe Maddon of the Tampa Bay Rays.
Joe is labeled as quirky and eccentric — a baseball genius. He has some of the best young players in the game under his command, in an organization that has done a tremendous job of scouting, drafting and developing talent for the last several years. Again, it’s easy to look like a baseball genius when you have all that winning talent behind you.
So what comes first? A manager’s ability to impact players and their systems, or players and systems’ ability to impact managers?
Whether Farrell and Maddon are baseball geniuses, masters of overseeing player development, or just the beneficiaries of great players given to them, the one thing they have both created is a winning culture, something Gibbons has not done.
But let’s take a moment to circle back and line all this up — Anthopoulos and his super-team, Gibbons being chosen to babysit said super-team, Farrell’s comments, and managers who create winning culture.
If managers are responsible for creating winning culture, and culture is judged on whether the players work together and win, and winning is what makes or breaks a manager, then shouldn’t the manager have some say in which players are brought in to play for the team he’s going to be judged by the performance of?
Farrell came to Boston before the major roster moves of his present club were made. Maddon got to oversee the entire rebuild of his Rays. Gibbons was, essentially, handed a team that was supposed to run itself, in an organization that was full of developers picked by someone else.
This leads me to postulate that Gibbons was selected as a Yes Man to the Anthopoulos’ super-tools team experiment. All these great players, all these incredible skills, all in one place. The Jays needed a skipper that could help them gel. Gibbons was it.
But the experiment has failed. The team, though talented, cannot police itself. It has gelled into a losing culture. Now, if anything, it needs a hard-ass to step in and rock the boat, but there is no incentive for Gibbons to play that role since it was never in his script, nor was it what he was cast do to.
I understand why Anthopoulos made the trades he did. He acquired some amazing win-now talent. I don’t begrudge any of his decisions, even the one to hire Gibbons, since the concerns the Jays had about their stars not becoming the 2012 Marlins were valid. But it’s apparent now that the animals can’t run the zoo.
I’d be surprised if Gibbons doesn’t get the axe at the end of this year.
Not that I feel he deserves it. I feel this season has pointed to some major issues in the Jays’ development philosophy as an organization. Also I don’t think this year is entirely Gibbons’ fault since he didn’t pick these players, hurt them at pivotal points during the season, or cause them to have career lows in production.
However, because there is so much money wrapped up in this club, and the letdown is so sour in the mouths of fans, a major move will have to take place to convince the Blue Jays consuming public that 2014 won’t be more of the same. And, unfortunately, it’s easier to replace the manager than it is the roster of vets and all-stars, even ones that don’t win.