Several of JaysJournal writers’ lives, including our own editor Kyle Franzoni (and my own), are currently undergoing huge shake-ups and the timing couldn’t be worse as the Jays themselves have undergone one of the largest shake-ups in years. Between switching cities, jobs, and screaming back and forth with my brother over the Jays trade, Melky signing, and Gibbons hiring I haven’t had the time to keep up with posting.
After talking with a few friends over the past week, many of them nearly exploded over the news of the trade, followed up by the Melky signing, however, many of them were initially lukewarm to the Gibbons signing. While I am not as high on it as A.A. when he called it his most confident move of his tenure, it definitely gets my meaningless nod-of-approval.
The first reaction of many Jays fans that I know was that the Jays were merely hiring a re-tread. The enthusiasm for bringing Gibby back doesn’t seem as high as when the Jays brought back Cito because well, er, he didn’t bring home two World Series on his first go-around. The Jays appear to be hirings the left-overs of a previously eaten meal (I dont have the time these days to come up with a metaphor that isn’t partially disgusting). Many of the people I know, took it as a sign that the Jays had a limited pool of managers to select from. Given the Jays most recent moves, I would be surprised if that was true. The hiring of Gibbers should instead be taken as part of a much larger point that every fan knows but rarely thinks about.
All the time managers and coaches (even players) are hired and let go for reasons beyond their own skills and abilities. One of the media’s favorite old-adage’s is that a coach as a shelf-life with a team regardless of how good he is. A manager’s career win-loss record is far more dependent on the team that he has than his own skills. Look at Joe Maddon (widely considered one of the best in the business). His abysmal 2006 and 2007 seasons win-loss records were in the dumps and then 2008+ the wins went up as the talent on the team went up. Usually, a manager being fired has more to do with the narrative surrounding his tenure, the season, his win-loss record, and the team that he is managing than his own abilities. Sometimes, all a GM can do to try and flip a switch, or change the media’s narrative is to fire his manager.
My point? The details matter, and Gibby being let go wasn’t out of his failure as a manager, but for circumstances beyond his control. In the same-way his inability to get into the playoffs in his first go-around wasn’t born out of his own faults but the team that he had. Gibby did what he could with a team that wasn’t really playoff worthy, and he had the best Jays record of any manager since the world series teams.
A manager doesn’t make as much of a difference to a team as the talent on the field. The difference between a good and bad manager can add or subtract a few wins in a season. In the playoffs this difference can be crucial. The question with Gibby is, does he get the most out of what he is given and as the mostly-great DJF (that is high praise by the way) pointed out, it is pretty difficult for an outsider to evaluate the internal dynamics of a club-house. Outside of the trimmings that are thrown to the hungry public by agenda-driven personalities to satiate their ravenous appetite for news, it is very hard to ascertain how Gibbons was as a club-house leader and personality. It is pretty difficult to ascertain whether he is good at developing young players and getting the best out of them, as you are always running what-if counter-factuals that are impossible to prove but the favorite tool of rabid sports-fans. Did Alvarez fail as a starter because it wasn’t in him, or because Farrell didn’t handle him properly? We will never know. Unless the manager is in the extreme (Dusty Baker) it is hard to tell where they lie on the development or leadership spectrum as a manger. Managing a team is hard to measure as most of the job is internal to the club-house without any real metrics to evaluate him by.
But, what we can evaluate Gibby by, he does pretty f’in well. His in-game management is the easiest to measure and by that regard he is pretty good. He understands the use of platoons and uses them more liberally than Cito or Farrell. He definitely managed the bullpen well under his tenure. I am hoping he’ll start using the closer as the highest-leverage reliever instead of the 9th inning savior, but I think that is wishful thinking. Most importantly, his in-game tactics were light-years ahead of the garbage that Cito and then Farrell threw at us. I can’t help but feel that his comments on not creating dumb f;in outs through base-stealing was a serious wagging of his middle finger to the recently departed Farrell. For these managerial requirements Gibbons deserves high-praise.
I also can’t help but point out that after listening and watching Gibby speak I walk away believing that in addition to wanting to be a manager he truly wants to be in Toronto. There will not be any news, rumors, or concerns about him flying the coop. If the pool of candidates are evenly matched, then this certainly makes him the best choice for the Blue Jays. I am not naive enough to think that this makes him a better manager by several rungs, but a manager who wants to be here will be much better than one who doesn’t. Wanting to be in Toronto creates a stability for the organization, the players, and the ability to plan for the future without side-distractions.
And I mean, really, look out at who was out there. I hope to F*** that Riggleman nor Tracy were ever seriously considered otherwise that would require an expletive riddled rant on its own. Alomar, Acta, Hale (who we got anyways) etc… were all decent candidates, but at the very least there was no one out there who was a better choice than Gibbons and at the best he was the clear best choice. Dave Martinez was always a pipe dream and he didn’t have previous experience. If anyone has a problem with Gibbons, just look at the rest of the managerial field and show me one person who was a better choice and not just a comparably good choice.
After 1000 words laying out the argument for Gibbons the truth is that for the future of the Jays it is far more important that A.A. hit on the Marlins trade than he hit on the Gibbons signing. Nevertheless, welcome back Gibby. Lets hope the Jays leftovers are far better than the initial meal.