Between a rebuilding roster and dealing with a global pandemic, Charlie Montoyo has had a lot to deal with in his first two years as the Blue Jays skipper. In some ways, it’s been difficult to truly evaluate him as a big league manager, but that should change in a hurry in 2021.
The Blue Jays will no longer be viewed as an up and coming team, but instead will be expected to compete and qualify for the postseason. Yes, they were able to do that last year, but that was during a 60-game season with an expanded playoff format. Unless the MLBPA and the owners come to a late agreement, it looks like the 2021 campaign will be a fairly traditional one with just five teams from each league making the playoffs. Regardless, now that George Springer, Marcus Semien, Kirby Yates and more have been added to a talented young roster, missing the postseason will no longer be viewed as acceptable.
For Montoyo, it’ll be the first season that he’s truly expected to guide a winning team in the big leagues. He had all the margin for error in the world in 2019 with a young team full of rookies, and last year brought plenty of excuses with a jam-packed schedule, and generally unprecedented circumstances. There were plenty of hiccups, but all in all the 2020 season was a success for the Blue Jays, and a big step in the right direction.
Which brings us to the present. Adding a trio of former All-Stars should make a big impact, but so will another year of development for the likes of Bo Bichette, Cavan Biggio, Lourdes Gurriel Jr., Nate Pearson, and a trim version of Vladimir Guerrero Jr., who has clearly worked his tail off over the winter. While Montoyo has had to guide a young and inexperienced club, the expectations are starting to shift for these emerging youngsters, and it’ll do the same for the manager.
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To be fair, the Blue Jays could still use another arm or even two for their starting rotation, but there’s still time to add to that area and cross off the last of the major needs. Whether they do that or not, the Jays have enough viable starters, a solid bullpen, and a very long and dangerous lineup. The front office has handed Montoyo a team that should be good enough to make the playoffs, even if they’re a piece or two away from being a true World Series contender.
Given all of what I’ve just described, I feel like Montoyo will start to feel the pressure of winning in a way that he’s yet to experience as a MLB manager, and it’ll be interesting to see how he responds. Even more interesting will be seeing if the support continues from the front office if the Blue Jays are not meeting expectations this season. I don’t expect that he’ll be on a terribly short leash by any means, but the circumstances have changed.
Montoyo’s contract coming due?
Montoyo signed a three-year contract ahead of the 2019 season to take over the Blue Jays dugout, which also includes a fourth year club option. In theory, if things don’t go particularly well in 2021, the front office could simply choose to go in another direction at season’s end. On the other hand, if the transition from pretender to contender goes smoothly, perhaps they’ll sign him to an extension. The Blue Jays have never been particularly fond of the “lame duck” status for their employees, which leads me to believe they’ll have made a decision by this time a year from now.
If that’s the case, then Montoyo surely understands that winning has now become the expectation. I doubt that will change his fun-loving demeanour a whole lot, but it could change the way he manages in certain situations. The past couple of seasons have allowed him to sit back and let the inexperienced young players learn from their mistakes, in an environment largely free of the pressure to win. As the likes of Bichette, Guerrero Jr., and more make the transition from emerging talents to legitimate stars, it’ll be up to Montoyo to guide them there.
For as much as I’ve questioned Montoyo’s decision-making in the past, I’m optimistic that things will go well in 2021 and he’ll truly settle into the role. With the talented roster now at his disposal, there aren’t many excuses left, and the time to truly evaluate his fit steering the ship of a contender begins now.