John Gibbons is an all-too-convenient symbol, rather than the underlying reason, for the Toronto Blue Jays' woes this season, general manager Alex Anthopoulos said in announcing Gibbons will be brought back for the 2014 season.
Of course, the security of Gibbons's job as manager assumes the GM will also return for a fifth season in charge of player personnel, with the Jays (59-74) buried in last place in the American League East after an extravagant acquisition spree last winter.
Anthopoulos attributed the disappointing season principally to the sort of starting pitching exemplified Tuesday by J.A. Happ in a 7-1 loss to the New York Yankees at Rogers Centre.
As much as Gibbons, the GM is facing a crisis of confidence, with fans barking about his abilities on social media.
"Everyone wants a 'why,' " Anthopoulos said. "People want a reason, and changes normally come when teams aren't performing."
Toronto's rotation entered the game with a 5.03 earned-run average, ranked 29th of 30 major-league teams. Anthopoulos obtained three of the starters in off-season deals (Mark Buehrle and Josh Johnson from the Miami Marlins, R.A. Dickey from the New York Mets) that cost the organization many of its top prospects.
Only Buehrle has lived up to his billing. Dickey has struggled at Rogers Centre. Johnson recorded all of two victories and, as of Tuesday, is effectively shut down for the season with a strained forearm.
Fellow pitcher Brandon Morrow has been out of action since June 1 with a forearm injury. Happ won the No. 5 job in spring training from the mishandled Ricky Romero and missed nearly three months after taking a liner off the side of the head in early May.
He lasted 4 2/3 innings Tuesday, as first-pitch swinging Alfonso Soriano hit his 10th (three-run) and 11th (solo) home runs since being traded to New York for a 5-0 lead after three innings.
"When you get blown out so early and that's happened way too many times this year, it makes it difficult. We've got to iron that out," Gibbons said after the game.
After Anthopolous said Gibbons "in-game, has done a great job," the manager watched from the dugout as Yankees centre fielder Brett Gardner threw out recent call-up Moises Sierra at the plate, trying to score from second with one out in the fifth inningand the Jays trailing 5-0. In the eighth, Sierra was called out after being hit by teammate Ryan Goins's grounder while running from first to second. Andy Pettitte (10-9) threw seven runless innings for the win.
Surrounded by a pack of media in front of the Jays dugout before Tuesday's game, Anthopoulos said the organization has given no thought to replacing Gibbons. The GM said blame should be shared rather than pinned on an individual.
"We all can get better – myself included," he said. "When we are where we are in the standings, clearly there's a lot of room for improvement. We're going to have some type of change. I'm not prepared to say what those changes are."
Gibbons watched batting practice as Anthopoulos dealt patiently with media inquiries. Asked to react to the news, Gibbons dismissed his place on the hot seat as "part of the job. … The season's not over yet. I'm not getting into what's fair, what's not fair. You deal with it. If you can't deal with it, it eats you alive."
He reflected on an 11-game winning streak in June as legitimately – rather than artificially – turning the team into a contender, but thought the team never recovered after losing five of seven games to Tampa Bay and Boston on an ensuing road trip.
"It is about starting pitching," Gibbons said. "That's no secret – it always is, always will be. We took our lumps there. But that's not just it – we played some shoddy defence at times. You can't pin everything on just [the pitching]."
With shortstop Jose Reyes and third baseman Brett Lawrie missing from the infield due to injury, and left fielder Melky Cabrera hobbled by leg strains, leaky defence compounded the pitching problems, especially in April and May.
"It's not necessarily errors – it's about the balls you don't get to," Gibbons said. "Melky was beat up out there, a lot of balls got through the infield."
Catching also plagued the Jays at times this year, and ironically, Anthopoulos spoke on the day that veteran catcher John Buck was traded by the Mets to the Pittsburgh Pirates. Buck came over from the Marlins in the 12-player trade last December and was flipped to the Mets a month later along with top catching prospect Travis d'Arnaud and pitcher Noah Syndergaard for Dickey.
Buck, who had previously caught Johnson and Buehrle, might have functioned effectively as J.P. Arencibia's mentor while picking up more playing time than the other Jays backups have this season.
Anthopoulos declared he was satisfied with the "process" behind the Marlins and Mets deals.
"After the kind of year we're having, changes are made and I think we're all glad he's not [going to be] one of them," Happ said.