Gibbons Extension Good News For Blue Jays

Photo c/o John Lott

The Toronto Blue Jays have locked up manager John Gibbons for two more seasons, with a club option for 2020.

Gibbons, who gets far less respect than he deserves from segments of the fan base, sits second in franchise history for manager wins, just 250 behind Cito Gaston.

For whatever reason, some fans have just not taken a liking to ol’ Gibby. Whenever things go wrong on the field, Twitter is quick to fire up the #FireGibbons discussion (or #FyreGobbins, if you prefer). For my money, this anger and blame is misplaced. 

Firstly, let’s examine what this extension represents, aside from a “promise” to employ the San Antonio native for at least three more seasons, including this one. It signifies that management, spearheaded by Mark Shapiro and Ross Atkins, have taken a liking to the smooth-talkin’ Texan who many people figured would be out the door quickly under a new regime.

Instead, Gibbons has led his squad to back-to-back ALCS appearances, and if not for an evaporation of the club’s offence in consecutive years, there’s a chance he’d have a ring by now.

For the conspiracy theorists who believe “Shatkins” will blow this thing up at the first sign of trouble, this is another counterpoint to that line of thinking. Let’s face it, Gibbons will be entering his 11th season as an MLB manager, and appears to be far more cut out to dealing with a veteran club than a younger one. If the plan was, at some point, to tear down by ridding themselves of Bautista, Donaldson, Tulowitzki, Martin, etc., I think they’d prefer to go down that road with someone else at the helm.

But with Donaldson under control for two more years (and hopefully many beyond), and long-term commitments to Martin and Tulo still on the books, it seems a safe bet those guys, and their manager, aren’t going anywhere.

To put another spin on it, Elliotte Friedman asked J.P. Morosi on Prime Time Sports Tuesday evening, if Gibbons wasn’t extended (assuming he just leaves after his contract ends following this season), how much interest would there be for Gibbons’ service from other clubs. And I think that’s a smart way to think about it.

Toronto is the only MLB club Gibbons has ever managed, spread out over his two stints. Would another team take a shot at him? I think they would. You could certainly do much worse than a guy with 11 years of experience and two trips to the final four. I think a lot of clubs would be interested in bringing in a guy with that type of pedigree as a “change of scenary / new voice in the room” type hire with another veteran group. But while this is an interesting nugget to ponder, it’s ultimately a moot point, as he’s now locked up in blue.

And since he is, maybe we should examine some of the criticism he faces so often. I’ve heard more than once today, from Gibby haters, “I don’t know who else is out there, I just don’t like him.” To be completely honest, I’m not sure what decisions another manager could make that would put this team in any different position on any given night.
Along with Pete Walker, he’s done an admirable job with the pitching staff over the last two years, in terms of managing starters’ innings, and lining up the rotation to put guys in the best possible spot to succeed. He’s not afraid to re-jig the order of starters to have them pitch in more favourable spots, or against an opponent whom they enjoy much success.

As far as the bullpen goes, we’ve seen when he has proper weapons to utilize, he knows how to use them. Early in 2015, the bullpen was a disaster. Was that Gibby’s fault? Or was it the fact he had no closer, and ineffective veterans throwing shit every time they got the call? Remember after the deadline when he had his pick of Roberto Osuna, Aaron Sanchez, Mark Lowe, LaTroy Hawkins and a dealing Brett Cecil? Now, it’s easy to say that any manager could look good with that group, but he knew when to pick his spots, and when to go to each guy, and the team played the best baseball this country has seen in twenty years.

The same can be said about last year. Every time the Jays blew a seventh inning lead, it was “why did Gibby make that pitching change?”, as opposed to “why is Drew Storen garbage, and why can’t Jesse Chavez keep the ball in the yard?” To be sure, those guys took the blame on the chin, too. But let’s stop trying to punish the manager for his players’ problems.

There’s the old “the coach needs to motivate the players!” argument, and a lot of fans don’t see Gibbons as a rah-rah guy. Make no mistake, he’s a player’s manager. He’ll fight for his guys. But he’s not gonna stand in the middle of the room before the big game and give an Any Given Sunday speech. That’s just not him.

He’s also not a coach, as the title suggests. He’s a manager. His job is to oversee all aspects of the club on the field. He’s not Mike Babcock, leaning in to teach his young players what they’re doing wrong. He’ll offer his two cents, but for the most part, he’s going to leave the instructing to his hitting, pitching and bullpen coaches.

And he’s a fun personality! The gold standard is Cubs’ boss Joe Maddon, and while Gibby will never organize dress-up nights on road trips or anything like that, he keeps it lose and enjoys a laugh. It really is a refreshing change from some of the guys who take things way too seriously (looking at you, John Farrell.)

Another extremely common criticism—and we heard this a lot when the offence sputtered last September—is the lack of small ball. I don’t know how many times I had to explain to people last year, that Donaldson and Bautista are not moving runners over with nobody (or even one) out. It’s just not going to happen. That’s not how this team is built. There’s maybe 3-4 guys who I think are even capable of laying down a decent bunt on this roster. There’s maybe three who can run well enough to steal you 20 bases. It’s not a stubbornness in his philosophy, it’s knowing how to use the tools he’s been given. If you want more small ball, write a letter to Ross Atkins and tell him to get rid of the mashers and find more guys who want to bunt. But I guarantee you’ll be in the minority.
Eventually, I think, the team will get a little more versatile, and bring in guys who can do a bit more (i.e. Dalton Pompey, Lourdes Gurriel, etc.), but until that happens, don’t expect Gibby to put on many hit and runs.

Finally, I like the stability this move brings to the organization. When you consider the first decade of the new millennium, and how often this team changed managers, it’s comforting to think, if Gibbons manages the full length of this deal (including the option year), there will have been no changeover in eight seasons. In an industry trigger-happy to blame the coach/manager and bring in someone new, I’ve often thought that sometimes, allowing one man to try and steady the ship might be the best course of action. For the foreseeable future, Gibbons will be the captain. It’s up to him to get the most out of his crew.

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