Person of Interest: Blue Jays managerial candidate Joe Espada

Joe Espada became the Houston Astros' bench coach before the 2018 season (Michael Wyke/AP)

Now that the Toronto Blue Jays have completed preliminary interviews for their open managerial job, they’re narrowing their focus with in-person interviews for a group of finalists.

As reported by Shi Davidi, the Blue Jays are believed to have five finalists including Astros bench coach Joe Espada, Giants farm director David Bell, Rays major-league field coordinator Rocco Baldelli and Cubs bench coach Brandon Hyde.

We started taking a closer look at the finalists with Baldelli. Now the focus shifts to Espada, whose team was officially eliminated from the playoffs Thursday night…

PLAYING CAREER
The Oakland Athletics thought highly enough of Espada to select him in the second round of the 1996 draft. An infielder who primarily played shortstop, Espada posted a .367 on-base percentage over the course of nine seasons in professional baseball, but never did reach the major leagues. In hindsight, then, the A’s would have been better off taking the infielder who went one spot after Espada in the 1996 draft: Oakland’s own Jimmy Rollins.

While passing on Rollins was regrettable, the A’s did find a major-leaguer one round later when they selected catcher A.J. Hinch. Espada and Hinch came up through the Oakland system at the same time and even roomed together on some minor-league road trips. Years later, Espada became Hinch’s bench coach with the 2018 Astros.

After five years with Oakland, the right-handed hitting Espada continued playing in the minors with various Marlins, Rockies, Royals, Cardinals, Rangers and Rays affiliates. He eventually ended his playing career with the independent Pensacola Pelicans in 2005.

COACHING CAREER
Espada started coaching immediately after his playing days ended, first as the hitting coach for the Marlins’ class A Jupiter affiliate in 2006-07. That led to a job as the Marlins’ minor-league infield coordinator from 2008-09 followed by a four-year stint as Miami’s big-league third base coach from 2010-13.

Eventually Espada became the Yankees’ third base coach for the 2015-17 seasons, but he first spent 2014 as a pro scout with New York, gaining perspective he has since described as valuable.

“It really helped me when I got back on the field (to understand) why we shift, why we want to play a four-player outfield,” Espada told Jake Kaplan of the Athletic this spring. “I think it’s been one of the best moves I have done in my career. How you have to be open-minded, progressive for where the game is going.”

After those three years coaching third for the Yankees, Espada replaced Alex Cora as Houston’s bench coach in 2018. At the time, Hinch described Espada as “a tireless worker who will connect well with players.”

Though he hasn’t managed at the MLB level, Espada has managed the Atenienses de Manati (2012-13) and Gigantes de Carolina (2014-15) in the Puerto Rican winter league. He was also the third base coach for Puerto Rico at the 2013 and 2017 World Baseball Classics.

IN DEMAND
The Blue Jays aren’t the only team with interest in Espada, who has reportedly spoken with the Rangers, Twins and Angels about their managerial vacancies. Now that the Astros are no longer in the playoffs, his schedule could allow for in-person interviews.

WHY HE MIGHT APPEAL TO THE BLUE JAYS
None of the Blue Jays’ four known finalists have managed in the majors, but Espada does have relevant experience as a bench coach and winter league manager.

Plus, the Blue Jays openly admire the way the Astros and Rays provide players with useful in-game information. Those clubs are “a little bit ahead of the curve” in Ross Atkins’ view, and Espada’s contributions will only help his candidacy.

By the time Cora left Houston for Boston, he had benefitted from working alongside Hinch and the Astros’ front office. It’s conceivable that interested teams will view Espada as a similarly promising managerial prospect.

“He has a lot of the same aspects Alex did,” Houston GM Jeff Luhnow recently told the Houston Chronicle. “Experience playing the game, experience in the trenches, coaching in an organization with a good manager. Bilingual, bicultural, really good understanding of traditional aspects of the game as well as the new aspects of the game. A good package overall.”

Plus, as Luhnow said, Espada speaks Spanish. While that’s not a requirement for the Blue Jays it has to be considered a positive at a time that young players such as Vladimir Guerrero Jr. and Lourdes Gurriel Jr. are arriving at the major-league level.

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