Blue Jays and John Gibbons need a strong start

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With the Blue Jays hiring of Ross Atkins as GM and Mark Shapiro as team president, John Gibbons‘ future in Toronto was anything but guaranteed. However, March is here and Gibby is still at the helm.

A lot has changed in Toronto since a memorable postseason run for the Blue Jays. When a franchise breaks a drought like they did in 2015, it’s rare to have the amount of front office turnover that took place in Toronto. It was inevitable in some positions, such as the retirement of Paul Beeston, but perhaps avoidable, or at the very least unexpected in the case of 2015 MLB Executive of the Year, Alex Anthopoulos.

Gone are two of the men responsible for returning the Blue Jays to the playoffs, but the majority of the roster they built remains, as do several coaching staff pieces. Because of the change of regime in Toronto, few knew what to expect with regards to the future. John Gibbons’ option for the 2016 season was already activated, but with a contract arrangement like the one he holds with the team, they could be on the hook for his contract regardless of when or how they part ways down the line.

With the arrival of Ross Atkins as GM and Mark Shapiro as team president (not to mention the hiring of Eric Wedge, frequent managerial candidate with close Cleveland ties to the new brain trust), Gibbons’ future in Toronto was anything but guaranteed. However, March is here and Gibby is still at the helm.

Although he has his critics, it’s difficult (and I’d argue unwise) to remove a coach who just guided his team to the playoffs for the first time in over 20 years, regardless of how talented the roster was. Anthopoulos may have been his biggest fan, hiring him for a second tenure in Toronto to the surprise of everyone, but Gibbons hasn’t exactly tanked in his second go round.

Given the new circumstances at play in Gibbons’ world, how will that affect his managerial style in 2016? He’s never been one to be overly emotional, and it’s hard to see his laid back style changing drastically overnight. That said, Gibbons knows that this season is as important as they come for the Blue Jays, what with the pending free agency of Jose Bautista, Edwin Encarnacion, R.A. Dickey and others, and more specifically for his future with the club.

Presidents and GM’s love to work with “their guy”, so Gibbons will have a short leash without his pal Alex Anthpoulos, especially as noted earlier with the presence of Eric Wedge in house.

Why This Could Be a Good Thing

Gibbons and his roster will all be feeling the pressure to get back to the playoffs and hopefully finish what they started in 2015. There is a good chance that they’ll be hungry after a taste of the dance last season, but they also understand that the window may be closing on this group. Yes, the Jays are set up well for the future with guys like Donaldson, Tulowitzki, Martin, Stroman and more locked down the foreseeable future, but it’s the pending/possible departure of franchise cornerstones Bautista and Encarnacion that makes this season truly urgent.

Many writers, fans, and players alike expect the Jays to have the best offence in baseball again in 2016, but there’s no doubt they’ll take a step back without their number 3 and 4 hitters (assuming they can’t re-sign one, or both).

Gibbons also knows that if this roster isn’t in the running when the All-Star break rolls around, there’s a good chance he won’t get to see the season out. He’s a laid back fella, but there’s little doubt he’d like to continue as a big league manager, and may feel an extra sense of urgency. While it would be foolish to expect him to be pulling out early hooks like the one R.A. Dickey got in the ALCS, Gibby may be less inclined to take chances early in 2016, and those early wins may turn out to be crucial come playoff time.

Why This Could Be A Bad Thing

As much of the aforementioned early season urgency may be a good thing, it really isn’t the style oozing out of John Gibbons when he flashes on the TV screen. The Blue Jays were at their best in 2015 when they were confident and allowed their talent to take over. All the while, Gibby sat leaned back with his legs and/or arms crossed, grinning like a proud papa.

Every group requires a different type of guidance, but the 2015 version of the Blue Jays certainly didn’t require a fiery manager. With passionate types like Bautista, Stroman, Donaldson, Martin and more on the roster, a relaxed influence seemed to be an effective formula for the former catcher-turned-manager.

In the unlikely event that Gibbons starts to micromanage this talented group, there could be some early frustration on the part of the players. Of course winning solves everything, but change can be difficult to accept after success, and with the added pressure to return to the playoffs patience will be a virtue for all involved.

Next: Blue Jays: Morosi expected scouts watching Hutchison Wednesday night

The Bottom Line

If I were to guess John Gibbons’ response to all of this, I would imagine him saying something like, “It will be what it’ll be”, which is exactly the case. He’s not necessarily a “lame-duck” manager, but he’s fully aware that his club will need to perform in order for him to fit in with his new bosses.

If the Blue Jays perform like they did in the second half of 2015, we’ll see a lot of relaxing poses from the 4th year manager (this time around). If they look like they did in the first half of 2015, it may be another grin we’re looking at come July.

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