John Gibbons: Blue Jays need to inject something different into lineup

Blue Jays manager John Gibbons is mostly optimistic, but points to the series at Wrigley Field, where the team was swept, as a turning point to the season.

As John Gibbons said Monday, the 2017 edition of the Toronto Blue Jays “could never get on a roll.”

Finishing the regular season 76-86 and failing to qualify for the playoffs for the first time since 2014 means it will be an interesting winter for the team.

“I think we need to inject something a little bit different in there,” Gibbons told Jeff Blair and Stephen Bunt on Sportsnet 590 The Fan. “There’s only so much to do with teams that you think are still good. I think we’ve still got a pretty good team here. If you’re coming off a successful year usually there’s a little tinkering but you don’t always want to get too carried away there.

“When you’re coming off a tough year you definitely gotta change the faces sometimes. That’s my opinion.”

No American League team scored fewer runs than the Blue Jays this season (they finished first in 2015 and fifth in 2016) and the San Diego Padres were the only teams in the majors with a lower batting average.

“We need to add a little bit more offence,” Gibbons said. “I still like the left-handed look, especially when your group of core guys are right-handed for the most part.”

It’s a similar message to the one Gibbons laid out following his team’s two recent ALCS runs—he wants more balance in his lineup, more speed and potentially more youth.

“Good young players, we’ve got some coming but I’m not sure if they’re ready yet either. I think they need a little more time maybe at the triple-A level, but those guys are tough to come by,” Gibbons said. “I would have to believe there are some guys out there, some pretty good hitters, that could come in and fill a job for us. We’re still looking for that lead-off spot. We’ve been kind of looking for that spot for the last five or six years. As coaches and managers, we always want everything, but the reality of it is you can’t pull everybody from a hat.”

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Gibbons suggested adding another arm to the rotation wouldn’t be the worst thing management could do, but also conceded it’s not likely the top priority. The Blue Jays dealt with more than their fair share of injuries to the pitching staff, most notably highlighted by Aaron Sanchez’s rough year dealing with blister issues.

“Sanchez, he’s the wild card. He proved last year he’s one of the best young pitchers in baseball,” Gibbons added. “If he comes back healthy, we’re in good shape…We saw this year you can never have enough starting pitchers. The previous two years we were pretty charmed as far as injuries go. This year it bit us a little bit and we were juggling guys back and forth so it just kind of reinforces how important depth is in pitching.”

Here are some other notes from Gibbons…

On when he realized 2017 would not end up like the previous two seasons:
“I remained optimistic [but] if I’m gonna pick one part of the season maybe it was when we went into Chicago to play the Cubbies. I think we were three games out [of a playoff spot] at the time, we were playing some pretty good ball, we got swept there. If I had to pick one spot that was probably it.”

The team was leading in all three games and blew a two-run 10th-inning lead in the series finale.

On monitoring Russell Martin’s playing time next season:
“Russell’s been instrumental the last few years getting us to the post-season to begin with. When we acquired him it really helped change the ball club with the pitching staff and his history and things like that, but he’s at that stage in his career where you’re going to have to monitor [his playing time] a little bit.

“We’re definitely a better team with him out there but if we can keep him as fresh as possible it’ll benefit everybody, so we’ll have to look at that. Going in [to the 2018 campaign] he’s definitely our guy and everything will revolve around him…As far as who’s backing him up I don’t know what’s going to happen there yet.”

On Devon Travis:
“He’s such a good hitter. Those guys really stand out, the pure hitters in the league…You know how good and valuable he is to our team offensively, and heck, he was a pretty solid second baseman, too, so I think anytime you get a good all-around hitter, the guy hits for high average, can drive in runs, hit his share of home runs, those guys are vital to a team because it adds a little different element to us. He always seemed to hit the better pitchers too…Devon’s one of those energy guys, too. He always plays with a little pep in his step. He’s a key part of this team and what happens injury wise who knows? His knee’s probably something he’s going to battle the rest of his career.”

On catching prospect Danny Jansen playing in the majors in 2018:
“He’s still learning the ropes. Danny’s put himself on the map. Everybody’s raving about him but I think where he’s at this stage in his career and his age, just playing a month or two in triple-A, I would say right now he’s gotta be down there catching every day for his development. If he’s got a year under his belt doing that then it might be a totally different situation but at least start the year doing that and then kind of see how he’s playing, see how things are going in the big leagues…My experience has taught me that as fast as he’s come and his really limited experience, instead of playing once or twice a week he needs to be out there every day or at least four or five times a week by himself so you don’t stunt his development.”

On Troy Tulowitzki:
“We’ll have to see how he bounces back. He was in town that final week [of the regular season] and he was moving around pretty good but you really never know how guys respond to those kinds of injuries, especially at that stage of his career. We’re banking on him to bounce back and still be a big part of this. I think he can but only time will tell.”

On Teoscar Hernandez:
“I thought he really opened up everybody’s eyes in September. He hit some home runs, played some pretty good defence, he added a little bit of life into the team. He ended up striking out a lot, no doubt about that.”

On Jose Bautista playing what was likely his final game with the Blue Jays:
“It was definitely a tough year for him, but—I don’t know how many games he played (Bautista suited up for 157 games and had a team-high 686 plate appearances) he was there every day like he’s always been. One thing that jumps out at me is he chased out of the [strike]zone a little more than he normally has in the past, whether that’s from trying to gear it up a little quickly or what have you, that may have been the cause of that…

“There’s no secret Jose’s getting old. That’s just the way the game works. Guys don’t play forever. I do know his desire I believe is to keep playing. Where he ends up, whether it’s with us or someplace else I couldn’t tell you but I have nothing but high praise for the kid. He’s always been kind of a controversial player but when he’s on your team you see what he does for you and the production and the places he’s taken us—for the longest time we were irrelevant in baseball—he’s done a lot for that team.”

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