Toronto Blue Jays manager John Gibbons bought himself some added time with a playoff run in 2016.
With the majority of that roster returning, however, expectations on Gibbons will now be higher than ever. Especially with Jose Bautista, Edwin Encarnacion, R.A. Dickey, Drew Storen, Brett Cecil, and several others in the final years of their contracts.
A new year will also bring some new day-to-day challenges for Gibbons.
Gibbons is often criticized for not taking action when needed, or simply staying out of the way. A veteran roster such as this could benefit from that, but here are a few areas in which Gibbons will need to be involved.
The addition of Storen and 2015 emergence of Roberto Osuna alongside Brett Cecil gives the Blue Jays a top-tier bullpen in the American League.
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Gibbons’ challenge here will be to give his high-leverage arms the consistency that they need. This proved to be crucial for Storen in Washington with the Nationals, where his elite 2015 season fell apart after the puzzling acquisition of Jonathan Papelbon pushed him out of the ninth inning.
Toronto saw a similar story play out on their own roster last year, with Cecil struggling in the closer’s role before returning to one of the game’s top left-handed relievers in an eighth-inning role.
These consistent roles will be crucial, but Gibbons will also need to know when to pull the parachute if needed. Another season like Aaron Loup’s (or Drew Hutchison’s in the rotation) should be cut shorter, and Toronto now has the increased depth to make that decision.
This applies to both the starting rotation and the heart of Toronto’s lineup.
Beginning on the mound, Gibbons made a habit of adding a spot starter to the middle of his rotation through 2015, buying an added day of rest for the other five starters. It worked well, so expect to see that more in 2016.
Not only will this benefit the veteran arms like Dickey, Marco Estrada and J.A. Happ, but it will help the younger Marcus Stroman and possibly Aaron Sanchez as they adjust to what should be career-high workloads.
Circling back to Toronto’s depth, the talent they have at the triple-A level should allow for them to make this move without experiencing much of a drop-off. This could also be a great opportunity for Jesse Chavez to shine if he begins the season in a long-relief role out of the bullpen.
In the lineup, giving Troy Tulowitzki and Jose Bautista ample time off will be critical to the team’s success later in the season. Ideally, Edwin Encarnacion could see time at first base once a week and allow Gibbons to utilize the designated hitter spot for someone other than Chris Colabello or Justin Smoak.
Left and Second
Left field and second base are the two positions on Toronto’s positional roster where there could be some room for Gibbons to be flexible.
Beginning in left, it appears now that the job is Michael Saunders’ to lose. He’ll need to be kept fresh to avoid another year plagued by injury, however, especially with his surgically repaired knee, so Gibbons must find a balance there.
Whether it be Ezequiel Carrera, Junior Lake, Dalton Pompey, or another member of the crowded competition, they may be called upon to cycle through once or twice each week. With someone like Lake, especially, the Blue Jays would also find benefits in having a left and right-handed bat to choose from.
At second base, Ryan Goins is in line to be the starter for the opening months of the season but Darwin Barney will be very much involved. Unless Goins figures out left-handed pitching, this could turn into somewhat of a platoon situation as the two match nicely for that.
Thankfully for Gibbons and the Blue Jays, they will be able to jump between the two without losing the high-grade defensive impact.