Three years in, Alex Anthopoulos' Toronto Blue Jays are eight games under .500 and haven't budged from fourth place in the AL East, just where J.P. Ricciardi and the previous administration left them. Each year, they've allowed a few more runs and scored a few less. The player payroll has crept upward, as it will again in 2013. As an organization, the Blue Jays weren't trending well.
This, then, would appear to be the winter Anthopoulos decided – or saw the opportunity – to do something about it, and with what seems to be the support of the boys at Rogers Communications.
Brains, affability and a solid plan – given a growing disparity between runs scored and allowed, and static disparity between the Blue Jays and the top of the AL East – still have a way of threatening a general manager's livelihood. So, Anthopoulos made the bold move. Several of them, actually. He dealt some of tomorrow for a lot of today. He chose to believe in Melky Cabrera. He let his manager walk. He invited hope. If this goes up in smoke, so too – some day – will Anthopoulos' time in Toronto.
This, to me, explains John Gibbons.
Anthopoulos doesn't finesse the biggest trade in Blue Jays history, rework the roster and spend some of that money that's been lying around in order to ease into a field manager. He can't be pretty sure an old guy still has the fire, or a young guy can run a veteran clubhouse, or any guy can communicate with the GM and his aides. He grabs onto what he knows. He hires a man who can find the ballpark without asking directions. He joins up with a manager who won't let anything slide, because this thing's gotta work. Today. If this ship sinks, chances are they all go down with it.
That's where Gibbons comes in. If the Jays go bad, at least somebody's knuckles will need bandaging.
"I've got more conviction in this hire than any transaction we've made here," Anthopoulos told reporters in Toronto.
That doesn't completely explain the month-long search or the managerial dalliances in other areas. It doesn't explain why Gibbons didn't get a call for three weeks after John Farrell opted for Boston. Granted, 12-player trades don't happen overnight and Gibbons wasn't going anywhere. In the end, for better or worse, and whenever that may come, the Jays can't be in a position of regret. They couldn't have had their manager wishing he were someplace else. And they couldn't have had their general manager wondering what was going on down there.
"From my standpoint, I don't know that there was anybody better in terms of managing a bullpen, connecting with players, connecting with the front office, holding players accountable – really everything you want from a manager," Anthopoulos said. "I don't know that there's anybody better to manage a team."
Of course, it was the "connecting with players" part that got Gibbons in some trouble last time through Toronto, because a couple times it arrived with a flash of anger and a far too literal element. But that's part of it. The fact is, no one quits on Gibbons, not unless he wants to be connected with. There are tough guys through the media and tough guys in the tunnel, and my preference would be the latter. I don't even think it's a choice.
The San Diego Padres adored Gibbons, who managed their Texas League team in San Antonio. They appreciated his knowledge of the game, his ability to teach, and of course his toughness. Gibbons came highly recommended from Kansas City, where he'd been the bench coach for the Royals, gladly would have had him back in San Antonio, and understood when Anthopoulos came calling.
He has this way of staring through your eyes into the back of your head, like he can see what you're thinking before you think it. He convinces you his way is – if not the only way – the proper way. That's what the Blue Jays will get, and that's what they'll need if they're to advance on the big fellas in the East. See, the talent is the easy part, and that's what Gibbons gets.
So, yeah, John Gibbons was on no one's list but Alex Anthopoulos'. He's not Bobby Cox. He's not one of the sexy young names that have become the new norm. He's just a guy who'll do the job and fight you to do it. The Jays will be better for it.
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