With expensive new additions in place that he believes can vault the Toronto Blue Jays into the postseason in 2013, the next task on general manager Alex Anthopoulos’s to-do list was the hiring of a manager to lead the group.
And his mind kept coming back to John Gibbons, the straightforward Texan who guided the team for five seasons when Anthopoulos was gaining valuable on-the-job experience as an assistant to J.P. Ricciardi.
In his three years as the top banana in Toronto, Anthopoulos said if there is one thing that he has learned, it is to trust your instincts when it comes to trades and important hires. Go with your gut is the way he phrased it.
With the two-year disaster that was John Farrell still very much fresh on his mind, Anthopoulos said it was critical that the new manager be someone he shared a common bond with and, most importantly, someone he can trust.
After a whirlwind courtship that lasted less than a week, Anthopoulos introduced Gibbons as the new Blue Jays manager during a news conference at Rogers Centre on Tuesday morning.
“I don’t have any stronger belief that this is the right guy to lead this team,” Anthopoulos said. “And I’ve got more conviction in this hire ... than I probably have in any transaction that we’ve made here.”
Those are pretty heady words about a manager who compiled a 305-305 won-loss record during his often-controversial tenure with the Blue Jays, which included a well-publicized “dust-up” (Gibbons’s description) with player Shea Hillenbrand during the 2006 season.
Gibbons’s ride came to an end in June, 2008, when he was fired to make way for the return of Cito Gaston.
While many will lament that Anthopoulos could have been more creative when it came to choosing a new manager, the GM was adamant in his belief that Gibbons is the best man to lead the Blue Jays.
“I don’t know if there was anybody better in terms of managing the bullpen, connecting with the players, connecting with our front office, holding players accountable,” Anthopoulos said. “Really, everything you want in a manager.”
A week ago, Gibbons’s name was not on anybody’s radar as a possible successor to Farrell, who pressured the Blue Jays into allowing him to forego the final year of his contract so he could pursue his “dream job” in Boston with the Red Sox.
But that all changed following a phone call from Anthopoulos to Gibbons in his hometown of San Antonio, asking him to come to Toronto to talk about the job.
The two had dinner Sunday night and finalized the details of a two-year-contract, plus a club option for a third, on Monday.
After leaving Toronto, Gibbons served as a bench coach for the Kansas City Royals before joining the San Diego Padres organization where this past year he was manager of the team’s Double-A affiliate in San Antonio.
Gibbons, 50, said it was a “leap of faith” by the Blue Jays to bring him back.
“They’ve invested a lot in this ball club, especially the last couple of weeks,” Gibbons said. “So it’s really important that they get the right guy.
“And to go out on a limb and bring back an individual who was here just a few years ago is a big thing for them. It’s not easy to do.”
The Blue Jays continue to be the talk of baseball with last week’s massive 12-player trade with the Miami Marlins finally being approved on Monday by commissioner Bud Selig.
That trade landed Toronto two front-line starters in Josh Johnson and Mark Buehrle, not to mention all-star shortstop Jose Reyes.
The following day, the Blue Jays went out and signed free-agent left fielder Melky Cabrera to a two-year, $16-million (U.S.) contract.
Blue Jays president Paul Beeston confirmed that Toronto’s payroll this season will be around $120-million, up from around $84-million a year ago.
“You look at what the front office has done here lately in the last couple of weeks,” Gibbons said. “This gets everybody’s attention. This is serious stuff.
“Who wouldn’t want to be here? It’s a pretty special time.”
Beeston was asked if the expectations for the Blue Jays to be a contender have increased by all the manoeuvring.
“I think we’ve fast-forwarded it,” he said. “I don’t think you can look at this team to be anything other than a contender.
“I don’t want to put it in the context of the number of wins you’re going to have, but it’s built to win.”