John Gibbons has entered the crosshairs of Blue Jays fans and media once again following his team’s slide out of divisional and Wild Card attention. General Manager Alex Anthopoulos has stated with varying levels of confidence throughout the season that John Gibbons would be returning to the helm in 2015. Speaking before Tuesday’s game in Baltimore, however, Anthopoulos seemed to take a step backwards.
Scott MacArthur of TSN MLB reports the Blue Jays GM as saying that “He’s under contract. He’s always under contract pretty much. I don’t think there’s anything to take care of. I think he’s done a good job.” Saying that John Gibbons will be the Manager in 2015 and saying that he is under contract to do so are two starkly different things.
John Gibbons has a unique “rolling option” clause, which prevents Gibbons from being pegged as a lame duck Manager. For example, when John Gibbons entered January 1st of 2014 still under contract this past Winter, that automatically triggered his option for 2015 as well. If Gibbons is still a Blue Jay on January 1st of this coming Winter, his 2016 option will similarly trigger.
“He’s under contract”, Anthopoulos continued to insist. “I mean, again, I’ve said this before too, I’m a big believer that no matter what position it is in the organization, grounds crew, administrative assistant, manager, coach, you support them until you don’t support them.”
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In other words, John Gibbons will be the Manager until he is not the Manager, a shocking turn of events. Alex Anthopoulos seemed eager to avoid these questions and instead offer up an agreeable answer that stands in the middle. Anything short of a vote of confidence, short of “Yes, John Gibbons will manage the Toronto Blue Jays in 2015”, is cause for attention.
This Blue Jays season is a textbook example on how to lose a Manager, in many ways. Loaded with talent in a top-heavy lineup, the Blue Jays lifted hopes of fans across the country before plummeting back to Earth in August, unable to finish the job. This team, like Anthopoulos’ answers, seems to be stuck in a strange middle ground. They possess too many large and difficult contracts, such as Jose Reyes, Mark Buehrle, and R.A. Dickey, to launch a full rebuild, but may still be 2-3 key pieces away from a deep playoff run. For a Manager, that is a helpless place to be.
How has John Gibbons played into all of this? That might be the most pressing and debated question in Toronto over the coming month. This is not the NFL, with head coaches constantly involved in calling plays and crafting the narrative of a game. In the MLB, critiquing a manager is extremely difficult. The most common criteria you will hear are the Manager’s use of his bullpen, and the success of his in-game lineup changes. Gibbons has made his fair share of both, which initially drew strong reviews in the Summer before being brought into question along with the team’s performance recently.
A Manager must also bring strong and steady leadership presence to a clubhouse, properly handling any issues that might arise over the course of a long season. Most notably, Gibbons’ would have been tested late in August with Jose Bautista, Casey Janssen, and the mythical “unnamed players” speaking out against the club’s inability to make a move. How did John Gibbons handle that situation behind closed doors? Regardless of what players say before the cameras, what level of respect do they truly hold for their skipper?
This is all under the assumption, of course, that Alex Anthopoulos remains in his position through 2015, which I believe he should as his plethora of young arms begin to surface as impact Major Leaguers. If I were a betting man, I would still lean towards John Gibbons being the man who waddles to the mound in 2015. However, the certainty of it all is going the same direction as the Blue Jays season.