Responsibility lies with Blue Jays players to reach potential after Montoyo's dismissal

Jamie Campbell, Arden Zwelling and Joe Siddall discuss the Blue Jays' managerial shake-up, what John Schneider brings as interim manager, and his responsibility moving forward.

TORONTO – To be clear, any mid-season firing of a manager, particularly one whose contract was extended a mere 3½-months ago, is a collective failure, not an individual one.

So, no matter where you sit on the Charlie Montoyo spectrum, after the Toronto Blue Jays made their first in-stream change since Cito Gaston replaced John Gibbons in 2008, remember to hold general manager Ross Atkins accountable for letting things get to this point, too.

After all, it was Atkins who not only brought Montoyo back for a fourth season after a less-than-the-sum-of-its parts campaign in 2021, but also tacked on another guaranteed year in 2023 with club options for 2024 and 2025. To go from the conviction needed to dole such a deal to a firing in such a short span makes it clear some assumptions made were wrong.

Certainly circumstances evolve and forced stasis in the face of mounting evidence that change is needed isn’t smart, either. But Montoyo – a decent and kind-hearted man who deserves credit for slogging through the 95-loss, opener-and-a-guy mess of 2019 and getting the team righted – is no different now than he was in the spring, or when he was steady in managing the three-home-city odyssey of 2021, or the pandemic summer of 2020.

Without doubt the fault lines that exist in every clubhouse became more pronounced and pressing, or less tolerated, over his 3½ years at the helm and that helped bring the situation to Wednesday’s boiling point.

But the inconsistent play that led to his firing was evident earlier this year and at times last year, which made the runway provided either a sign of a franchise trying to support a leader or needless risk-taking with another year of the core’s contractual control, depending on your vantage point.

“I felt as if a lot of good individual things are happening and we need to be playing better as a team and I feel strongly that we can and we will be,” Atkins said over and over in different forms, sticking remarkably well to his talking points. “I feel like this is one step that can help.”

Still, none of that means that this move wasn’t necessary, because the guy who leads a team through the rebuild isn’t always the guy that takes it to the promised land. Over the past couple of weeks, it became increasingly clear that the Blue Jays’ wild swings in performance had to be addressed and upgrading talent alone wasn’t the answer. One school of thought is that this group too often falls back on its talent and lapses in necessary focus and attention to detail, which is certainly one way to explain why they continue to underperform their talent.

Last year, using the likes of Rafael Dolis, Tyler Chatwood, Joel Payamps, Anthony Castro and Travis Bergen in leverage offered a definitive explanation, at least early in the season. But this season the baseline is much higher in that regard. And there hasn’t been a corresponding improvement and that led to increasing pressure and frustration, particularly during the recent 1-9 stretch that included the trying road trip through Oakland and Seattle last week.

By the end of it, “I think we needed something to send us in the right direction,” said shortstop Bo Bichette. “This is not my area to worry about. We'll come to the field ready to play as hard as we can. The front office has made their decision on what they thought was necessary. I don't disagree.”

Certainly the difference in public messaging recently between Montoyo, he of the inherent optimism, and his players, talking about urgency and pulling together as a group, is noteworthy. So too is Atkins making multiple references to playing as a team, including his reply to a question about Montoyo being let down by thin pitching, another frequent public talking point.

“How I feel about that is good teams win,” said Atkins. “It's not necessarily good pitching and good bullpens. Look at the history of the game – good teams win championships.”

In contextualizing how not seeing that team dynamic manifest on the field, Atkins said: “In professional sports environment matters. The level of energy and positivity, all of that matters. Execution matters. Deployment matters. It's not one thing. And that all comes back to me. And ultimately I'm the most accountable for that not going well. As we proceed, we'll look to continue to improve on that. And I will continue to look at how I can improve upon that. But ultimately I felt this decision will help us take a step in that direction.”

Hence, Atkins used the simplest lever at his disposal, resulting in a promotion to interim manager through the end of the 2022 season for John Schneider. The highly respected Casey Candaele will come up from triple-A Buffalo to cover Schneider’s former role as bench coach.

The duo won’t dramatically alter the way the Blue Jays approach games, although Schneider did successfully hit-and-run in the third to set up the first run for a brilliant Ross Stripling in an 8-2 debut win over the Philadelphia Phillies.

But perhaps the two will connect with players in a different way, leading to a more consistent level of performance.

“I think they’ll bring direction, I think they’ll bring accountability. They'll bring a presence that's really important for a team,” said Bichette. “I'm super excited for Casey to get here and for Schneids to get the opportunity.”

After months of games left on the table, he was far from alone in that sentiment.

“Charlie is a great person,” said ace Kevin Gausman, who’ll return from his bruised right ankle to start Thursday in the opener of a four-game series against the Kansas City Royals. “But we've just got to focus on today and tomorrow and seeing what it looks like. A different manager, obviously, is going to be bringing different energies, his own person. Interested to see how Schneids takes this opportunity and runs with it.”

Teoscar Hernandez, one of a handful of Blue Jays not performing to his recent norms, seemed more conflicted although he hit two-run homers in the fourth and eighth innings in helping push his team to victory.

“Obviously it's really sad. It's just part of process. It's part of the game and you have to keep going,” he said. “(Schneider) is a good guy around us. He talks to us a lot. His communication with us is really good, too. So I think he's going to do a pretty good job with the team and with the boys in the clubhouse.”

And Vladimir Guerrero Jr., who homered in the fourth and added a sacrifice fly in the fifth, added that the news caught him by surprise and was “very, very emotional for me. Especially with a guy like Charlie. But you've still got a job to do and I just prepared myself for the game and to go out there and continue to help the team win.”

"We know that things could be better, things have to be better,” he said. “We understand what we all can do. It hasn't really shown yet. That's the frustrating part. But at the end of the day, we just have to show up, play hard and whatever happens, happens.”

For his part, Schneider is intent on providing the support needed to make that happen.

“You always want to be as prepared as you can be going into it,” said Schneider. “And if you can consistently put guys in positions to have success over time, and I know you say 162 but that's going to be crunched down to another half-a-season right now, the more you can do that, the better off you're going to be. So I think just being consistent with those decisions and consistent with our prep work and being convicted as a team, that this is going to be advantageous to us to win a ballgame that night, hopefully, we can make those decisions collectively as a whole and put guys in the right spots at the right time.”

According to the blueprint, the end result should be wins like the one Wednesday a lot more often. A starter who grabs the game by the throat and doesn’t let go, the way Stripling did over seven innings. Good at-bats against a tough pitcher, Zack Wheeler this time. Add-on runs to make it a low-stress night for the bullpen.

Baseball doesn’t always go to plan, though, and Atkins’ accountability became Montoyo’s penance.

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