The easiest thing to do would be to simply fire John Gibbons and give everybody their scapegoat.
And it may come to pass that Gibbons, the manager of the Toronto Blue Jays, does indeed pay the price for another year of insignificant fall baseball. Although such a move would seem to be a damning indictment of general manager Alex Anthopoulos, whose career managerial hirings would then consist of a guy pushed on him as a caretaker (Cito Gaston), a guy who screwed over the franchise to get a job managing the Boston Red Sox (John Farrell) and Gibbons, a gut call totally off the board and who is about to oversee a last-place divisional finish.
Watch: Blue Jays beat Yankees 5-2
A skeptic would suggest the fate of both men is tied together, or at least that if Gibbons is fired it was somebody above Anthopoulos (either president and chief executive officer Paul Beeston or team ownership) that forced the decision.
The Blue Jays were 58-73 heading into Monday’s first of three games against the New York Yankees and, by and large, it’s because of one reason: Their healthy starting pitching has been abysmal. It’s hard to see how that falls at all on the manager.
Still, this is the type of season that requires a selling job, and there’s a whole lot of “fool me once, shame on you; fool me twice, shame on me” out there right now. Chances are, “Come see Alex’s new additions – they’re better this time,” won’t sell tickets this winter.
(And don’t get us started about how much more difficult that task might be if, in fact, a decision is made to raise ticket prices, which was on the table earlier this season.)
The fact is, it’s an easier sell to hammer Gibbons than it is to defend him.
The bullpen was largely effective until the starting pitching wore it into the ground, and no aspect of the game reflects on a manager’s tactical abilities like the smart use of the bullpen. But that’s all I have in defence of Gibbons, folks.
The negative side of the ledger is easier to tabulate in a city that expected playoff baseball: A team that has often played with its head up its butt and seems to spend a lot of time cutting up and kibitzing around while putting together one of the most disappointing seasons in franchise history does not reflect well on the manager.
“I don’t get into what’s fair,” Gibbons said with a shrug Monday. “It’s open season. This is a tough business; it’s a results-oriented business.”
The Blue Jays traded and signed their way into the forefront of the city’s sports conscience in the off-season, raising expectations of their peers as well as bookmakers, fans, media and players. It was a three-year plan, and while the savvy out there likely allowed for the odd stutter-step in Year 1, nobody – it’s safe to say – foresaw 15 steps back and a fall off the cliff. Nobody predicted the Summer of Munenori.
A season like this is nothing less than a consumer-confidence issue, but we’ve had those before under Gord Ash and J.P. Ricciardi. Last winter’s spending has changed the ground underneath the club.
The free-agent market is sparse, and the Blue Jays aren’t loaded with prospects or major-league players that can bring a No. 1 or No. 2 starter in a trade (which is where this team needs to start unless you are gullible enough to put your faith in Ricky Romero or Brandon Morrow or think R.A. Dickey or Mark Buehrle are capable of fronting a rotation in the American League East). Everything should be on the table in the hunt for pitching, including outfielder Jose Bautista and his absurdly market-friendly contract and nifty wins-above-replacement statistic, or third baseman Brett Lawrie and his Canadian passport.
This rot has been two years, two different managers and two different coaching staffs in the making. It’s time to find the common threads to a multiyear mess, as opposed to simply appeasing the chattering classes.
The “new” is easy to blame; it takes courage and intellectual honesty to look deeper.