Friday, January 31, 2014

Is Gibby The Right Man For the Job?

Toronto Sun photo
   More than a few eyebrows were raised when the Blue Jays recycled John Gibbons as their manager prior to the 2013 season.
    And even though the balancing act he performed with the club's bullpen was along the lines of a loaves-and-fishes variety last year, we're not sure he's the best choice to run the club in the long term.
   Granted, you can't pin all of last year's problems on Gibby.  It's not his fault that Jose Reyes badly injured his ankle less than a month into the season (and a lack of depth in the upper levels of the system excaberated that situation).  That Brandon Morrow can't seem to stay healthy long enough for his performance to match his ability, and that Josh Johnson couldn't find the strike zone north of the Mason-Dixon line (after some tabbed him as a Cy Young candidate in March) also were not a product of his managerial skills, or lack thereof. Ditto for the struggles of Emilio Bonifacio and J.P. Arencibia - in the case of those two, it might have been more a matter of having their limitations exposed when they were put into roles beyond their skill level.
   Gibby appears very much to be a players' manager - one who assumes that the veterans know how to play, and lets them do so. A Gibbons spring training is more about letting vets play themselves into shape, and less about fundamentals, which don't get practised during the season, because, hey, it's a long season, after all, and players need to pace themselves. This may be great for established players who have been on the roster for a number of seasons, but not for those who are new to the club, like Izturis, Bonifacio, and Reyes, who struggled for the first month-plus with the speedy Rogers Centre turf.  And the base-running gaffes and defensive miscues which characterized much of the first half of the season can easily be traced back to a lack of working on the fundamentals of the game.
   A late-August visit by Baltimore seemed to underscore the weakness of this approach.  During the Orioles BP, coaches hit flyballs to Adam Jones and Nick Markakis as part of their daily drill and kill.  Apparently, this was a revelation to the Jays, as Richard Griffin of the Toronto Star reported the next day, when he began his column with, "Finally, a fundamentals sighting at the Rogers Centre," as rookies Pillar, Gose, and Sierra were seen getting in some flyball-shagging practice prior to the game.  If a gold glover like Adam Jones needs daily practice, shouldn't that be part of the daily regimen for all Blue Jays players - not just the rookies?
   Gibby did acknowledge to Griffin that more work in those areas is needed this spring, and hopefully it will be adequately addressed.  This team threw away too many games in the first half of last season due to defensive and baserunning gaffes.
   But is Gibbons the best choice for this team, say, in 2017 ?   The club is set pretty much for at least the next two to three years with contracts given to Dickey, Reyes, and Bautista. As much as we personally like the guy, who seems very genuine, we think he's not the long-term answer.  By that year, position players in the lower reaches of the system like Mitch Nay, Dawel Lugo, Frankie Barreto, and D.J. Davis may be on the verge of earning big league jobs, to go along with the depth of pitching the club has at that level.  Granted, not all of those prospects will pan out, and some will likely be dealt to shore up other areas of the big league club, but all the signs point to this being a much younger team by that time, a team that will experience growing pains in terms of their basic skills and understanding of the game.  Gibbons demonstrated this year that he prefers to manage players as opposed to teaching them, so unless he shows a drastic turnaround in that approach, the club would be better off with the latter type of manager.
   So, just as GM Alex Anthopolous has gone on record as saying prior to last season that the club's current roster has a two to three year window to contend in the AL East, perhaps that window applies to the manager as well.
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