Blue Jays manager John Gibbons appeared on Prime Time Sports on Sportsnet 590 The Fan on Monday evening. He was grilled by host Bob McCown and Michael Grange, touching on the leadoff spot, his two impending free agent sluggers, the starting left fielder, closer, fifth starter, and more!
Gibby hasn’t appeared in local media much this winter, despite all the happenings with his bosses. Surely content to enjoy his time off at his 0ff-season home in San Antonio, the bench boss has laid low, but with Spring Training kicking off in under a month, it’s time for him to address a few things.
You can listen to the entire interview above, or here. It was an interesting twenty minutes, and there were plenty of highlights.
On Who Will Lead Off:
McCown opened with a joke (I think?) about a caller a few weeks back who suggested the solution to the club’s hole at the top of the lineup could be solved by plugging Jose Bautista there. Keep in mind, Bautista was the Jays’ leadoff hitter to open his breakout 2010 campaign. However, this is an absurd notion now. While it is a great point that he might be the best fit in terms of on-base percentage, working counts, drawing walks, etc., this seems like an assinine idea to piss off your biggest superstar as he approaches free agency. (Do we need months of talk radio comparing this to using Price out of the bullpen? No.) Gibbons simply said “no” when asked if he thought that was a crazy idea (even though it is), and said it was “an interesting point”, but admitted he didn’t believe Bautista would be on board, and that little caveat is paramount. The conversation did drift toward the realm of realism, with an eye to Devon Travis or Troy Tulowitzki.
“I was really excited when we first got Tulowitzki, and we put him up there. Tulo, I loved the way it worked, and the team really took off, the team was winning. Then, of course, we flipped him and Revere, later in the season, and we kept rolling. Tulo always told me, and I think he still feels this way, he’ll hit wherever we want him to, but I think he likes it a little further down, to be honest with you, so we’ll see.”
Gibby went on to say he didn’t really want to tinker too much with the heart of the order, leaving Donaldson second and Bautista third. He even referenced the 2014 season, when Bautista hit second during a universal lineup shift while Jose Reyes was injured, and how Joey Bats wasn’t a big fan of that either.
To me, Tulowitzki makes the most sense as the leadoff hitter. Give your four best hitters the most at-bats every game (Tul0-Donaldson-Bautista-EE). Tulo has a very good on-base percentage, and his struggles last season were really only in his first at-bat of the game. Other candidates could be Travis (when he returns), or even Michael Saunders. More on him shortly.
On the fifth spot in the rotation:
“We’re gonna bring Sanchez in spring training, we’re going to stretch him out, see how that all plays out, and at the end of spring, see if we’re stronger as a team with him in the rotation or in the bullpen. Then of course you have Hutch, Jesse Chavez, so there will be some good competition. But I feel pretty good about this team right now, I really do.”
And why wouldn’t he!?! They are the defending American League East champs, after all. This isn’t ground-breaking new stuff from Gibby. We know the plan is to allow Sanchez a chance to win the fifth spot in the rotation. This is going to be one of the most hotly debated issues around the club all spring, and I imagine the schools of thought are split pretty evenly. If Hutchison or Chavez can show they are ready to take a significant role in the rotation, it’s conceivable Sanchez will go back to the ‘pen for another season, even if he looks ready to start. Sanchez seems pretty determined to start, though, and his good buddy Marcus Stroman wants him in the rotation, too. If I were putting money on it? I want to say Sanchez works his way into the rotation, but Gibbons is a manager who loves to use the bullpen, and I think to him, the prospect of having four stud relievers to rely on is too tantilizing. As long as Hutch or Chavez doesn’t self-implode, I think we see Sanchez in the bullpen for one more year, maybe as a “super reliever” to keep his innings up before giving him a more legitimate shot to start in 2017.
On Drew Hutchison, and what made him “come apart” last year:
“He’s gotta be able to locate his fastball, like everybody does. That’s crucial for him. He is young, but he’s battled that early in his career. I think his slider was inconsistent. Two years ago we really saw that nice razorblade slider, that strikeout slider. Last year it was kind of hit or miss. It got too big, or it wasn’t as sharp, and he wasn’t getting the swings and misses like he normally does.”
This guy has been such a wild card the last two years. R.A. Dickey said last spring, every good team has players who come out of nowhere, or play above expectations. We saw that with Marco Estrada, Kevin Pillar and Chris Colabello last season. I think Hutch has to be one of those guys this year. Like I said above, a very strong bounce-back season from him will have a huge ripple effect throughout the pitching staff. It will greatly deepen the bullpen, and it will create a security blanket for any regression, inconsistency, or injuries to Dickey, Estrada or J.A. Happ. If the Jays are going to replicate the results of last season, I think they need a significant contribution from Drew Hutchison in some form or another.
On replicating last season’s results (and how to motivate the team to do so):
“Let’s not be a one-hit wonder, all of the sudden disappear this year and all is forgotten. This team is too good for that to happen. We need to pick up where we left off last year. It’s been so long coming (for the franchise) to get to there, we gotta work harder than we did the year before. But don’t lose that good feeling we had, because very few of us had felt that before.”
I love the “we gotta work harder than we did the year before.” I heard a great quote from Mike Babcock on the radio a few weeks ago, echoing the same sentiment. Essentially he said you always need to be working twice as hard. Work twice as hard to catch the guy in front of you, or twice as hard to stay ahead of the guy chasing you. These Blue Jays won’t sneak up on anybody this season. They’re division champions. They were six wins away from a World Series crown. They’ve got a mark on their back now, and they need to be ready to defend the title. Make the other guy snatch it away from you.
On his two impending free agent sluggers, Jose Bautista & Edwin Encarnacion:
“My gut tells me they’re both going to go out and have monster years. They’ve finally gotten to that point in their careers, and they’ve been around a while, they both really came into their own in Toronto. Before they got to Toronto, it was really ups and downs. So they made a name here. Sometimes you only get one shot at free agency, so they’ve earned that. It’s such a tough battle for them, and they really love Toronto, so I don’t think they’ll get distracted like that, the loyalty is there. But I think they’re going to be motivated and think ‘I’m going to have a monster year because, whether I’m here or not, it’s only going to benefit me.’”
I absolutely dread the thought of one or both of these guys leaving. But that is the reality of professional sports. It’s awesome to have superstars all over the diamond, but this team does not have the resources to have a $20-million man at every position. They have a very expensive short stop, an expensive catcher, and an expensive third baseman who is going to keep getting more expensive. Realistically, they only have a shot to keep one, if that. As much as I love Eddie, I hope it’s Bautista who they keep. I think he will age better, he can shift positions, but will still be useful in the outfield for a couple of more seasons, and he’s been the face of this organization for over half a decade. He deserves to be paid handsomely by this franchise.
On Michael Saunders, every day left fielder?:
“I don’t know what to expect. He missed a whole year. All the reports are that he’s moving good. It should all be behind him, but you never know if that’s going to flare up, or if he’s going to be able to move like he has in the past. That will all have to play out, and you can’t eliminate (Dalton) Pompey either. How’s he going to show up, or does he go down to Triple-A, and when his time comes, does he force our hand, and does he become the left fielder? I’m not sure if the team’s really set yet, if there’s someone else on the horizon. We brought in Michael last year to for a reason, to help us. If he’s healthy, he’s going to get a shot in spring training to show us what he is.”
This is interesting, and I’m not entirely sure what to make of it. Could it just be lip service to motivate both Saunders and Pompey? Obviously much can happen, but logically, it seems right that Saunders will start in left, and Pompey will get to play every day in Buffalo. At least that’s how I see it shaking out.
On Drew Storen:
“Great arm, I’ve heard some really good things about him. His numbers speak for themselves, he’s been a dominating closer in the big leagues. We’re not set which way we’re going to go with our back end of the bullpen, we’ve gotta figure that out in spring training. Storen’s done it before and can do it very well. Osuna came into his own last year and did as good as he probably could, especially given his age. We gotta figure out Sanchez, and that kind of thing. It’s a great problem to have, but we’re dealing with egos and the mental side of things, too. However we set it up, it’s for the best of the team. We’re here to win and I think it will all play out fine.”
To me, that says Drew Storen is the closer. He’s done it before, and he’s done it well. Plus, this gives the team an opportunity to use Osuna as a “super reliever” as well, which will be even more important if Sanchez is in the rotation.
There was a little talk at the end about the limitations of having Sanchez and Osuna in the bullpen, and how it might limit their efforts to be a starter in future years. Also some odd questioning about why Dickey has a pitch count, and whether or not his early pulls are to prevent hitters from getting too accustomed to the knuckleball. (Uh … duh). All worth a listen.
All-in-all, a pretty insightful chat from the skipper that confirms a lot of things we’ve all been discussing for weeks now. I think I speak for the entire fanbase when I say we can’t wait for the boys of summer to get down to Florida and get things going. The first spring training game is exactly one month from today! Opening Day seems just around the corner, too.
Smile, Jays fans. Baseball is near.
Honourable mention! During the offseason, my girlfriend and I got a cat. We named him Gibby. Today is Gibby’s first birthday. Happy birthday Gibby!