Toronto Blue Jays: The case for Joe Espada as the next manager

Sportsnet’s Shi Davidi reported earlier this week that the Blue Jays have five finalists in their hunt for a manager, one of them being the current Astros bench coach Joe Espada. Here’s his case, a look at the importance of speaking Spanish for baseball managers, and how it can be helpful for Latin players.

The Blue Jays have whittled down their managerial options to five with the search expected to be finalized soon, with in-person interviews taking place in the coming days. Joe Espada is among the finalists along Cubs bench coach Brandon Hyde, Giants farm director David Bell, and Rays major-league field coordinator Rocco Baldelli. The fifth candidate is not known at the moment.

With the Astros having been eliminated last night in Game 5 of the American League Championship Series against the Red Sox, the focus has now turned to Joe Espada’s candidacy to be the next Blue Jays manager. The 43-year-old has been coaching in baseball for the past 12 years. He started off as the hitting coach for the Marlins’ Class-A affiliate in 2006. In 2008 he was appointed as the Marlins’ minor-league infield coordinator, and in 2010 he was Miami’s big-league third base coach until 2013.

After his coaching stint with the Marlins came to an end, the Yankees hired him and assigned him to duties as a pro scout during 2014. He would then be back on the field as a the third base coach for the Yankees from 2015 to 2017. In 2018, he became part of the Astros coaching staff as he became their bench coach joining his friend, current Astros manager, AJ Hinch. Espada has also managed the Atenienses de Manati and Gigantes de Carolina in the Puerto Rican winter league, as well as Puerto Rico in the 2017 World Baseball Classic.

The big factor in Joe Espada’s case, born in Santurce, a district in San Juan, Puerto Rico’s capital, is the fact he speaks Spanish. Communication is important in all aspects of life, and baseball is no exception. Translators are key for every baseball organization but having a manager that speaks both English and Spanish perfectly is something very valuable. For Latin players, being able to communicate in their mother language directly with their manager can be extremely helpful for their development and transition. Adding on to that, having someone who comes from a similar culture can help even more. Astros General Manager Jeff Luhnow told the Houston Chronicle that Espada is a, “good package overall. Bilingual, bicultural, really good understanding of traditional aspects of the game as well as the new aspects of the game”, said Luhnow.

The Blue Jays have several big names who speak Spanish as their mother tongue, and would be thankful to have a manager that can directly communicate in their first language. Vladimir Guerrero Jr, the player who seems like the next franchise player, is learning English but having a manager who speaks Spanish could be key in his development and easing his transition to major league baseball.

Lourdes Gurriel is another player whose future looks promising in Toronto and could benefit from a Spanish speaking manager. Others in Toronto are Kendrys Morales, Aledmys Diaz, Teoscar Hernandez, Richard Urena, plus top prospects David Paulino, Hector Perez, and the already mentioned, Vlad Jr, who could be an important part of the 2019 Blue Jays. Hall of Fame manager Tony La Russa once said: “If you have serious aspirations of being a major league manager, there is a baseball ‘book’ you have to learn. Alongside that book, you have to practice Spanish”.

Whether a manager speaks Spanish or not, should not be something definitive in the hiring process, but it should definitely be something the Blue Jays should consider as a ‘plus’. Most Latin players are able to speak some English, but expressing emotions for example, which is something important at times, or talking about mechanical baseball issues, might be hard for players who don’t speak fluently. You don’t want players who don’t speak to their managers simply because of the language barrier, it’s something you definitely want to avoid, and even though there are translators, the quality of the communication will simply not be as good.

Another aspect Ross Atkins might like from Espada is his experience with the Astros. Blue Jays General Manager recently said the Astros and Rays are “a little bit ahead of the curve” in giving their players in-game information. That will only help Joe Espada’s case, whose chances of becoming the next Blue Jays manager are known to at least be of 20% but might actually be higher due to being bilingual.