There’s no question that the Toronto Blue Jays have made the most noise throughout baseball this offseason – and that’s pushed them from a fourth-place finish in 2012 to division favorites heading into this season.
They’ve added three strong, veteran starting pitchers in R.A. Dickey, Josh Johnson and Mark Buehrle. They’ve added a perennial all-star and one of my favorite players to watch in shortstop Jose Reyes, as well as outfielder Melky Cabrera and infielder/outfielder Emilio Bonifacio to a lineup that already included Jose Bautista, Edwin Encarnacion, Brett Lawrie and Colby Rasmus.
Perhaps their most intriguing acquisition, though, will never throw a pitch or swing a bat this season. After allowing John Farrell to go to the Boston Red Sox in the always surprising “manager-for-player trade” in November, the Blue Jays hired John Gibbons to skipper them again.
Gibbons managed the Jays from 2004 to 2008. In his three full seasons, he led them to a second-place finish and two third-place finishes. I was always impressed with the guy’s accessibility and honesty – one of my favorite opposing managers to cover.
Of course, his honesty and passion got him into a little trouble when he was in his first go-around with the Blue Jays. He wasn’t afraid to speak his mind to players and, consequently, had a couple fairly public confrontations, which may have cost him a chance at other managerial jobs.
However, within baseball circles, Gibbons has always been highly regarded. In fact, when the Orioles were looking for a new manager in 2010 – the spot filled by Buck Showalter – Gibbons was on the club’s larger list of candidates. It never got past the short list, though, and Showalter has done a superb job leading this franchise.
I had a chance to catch up with Gibbons earlier this offseason for another story I was doing and I asked him about the AL East, his Blue Jays and Showalter’s Orioles. I thought I’d pass on some of his quotes.
Gibbons on the lofty expectations placed on the Blue Jays this year: “It’s a good thing in the baseball world when you are recognized for having a talented group. And we feel the same way. But that gets you nowhere. You’ve got to go out and do it. It’s a good feeling going into a season, but it’s not a legitimate thing until you accomplish something. We’ve been in the backseat for a number of years, and until you go out and prove something, you can talk all you want.”
On how good his team can be: “You really don’t know until you play, but I don’t see a whole lot of weaknesses. Nobody has a perfect team. Everybody has holes, warts. But we have really good team speed and guys that can hit the longball and drive in runs from the top to the bottom and a good pitching staff. You can’t always have everything but we feel like Alex (Anthopoulos, Toronto’s GM) has addressed every need that we were looking for.”
On getting another chance to manage: “I feel great. The odds of me getting another (big league managerial) job to begin with were very small and then to inherit this team that’s loaded with talent. I hadn’t won any championships here, so to repeat in same spot … it really came out of nowhere. It really hasn’t settled in yet.”
On managing against Buck Showalter: “When I was (in Toronto) the first time, Buck was in Texas and I never got to really know him … but I knew his reputation for really being in tune to the game and on top of things. And you can see that in his teams.”
On managing in a division with Showalter, Joe Maddon, Joe Girardi and Farrell: “Man, that’s a good group to be associated with. I hope I can accomplish some of the things they have.”
On the AL East: “You had three teams with more than 90 wins last year. That’s hard to do, that speaks to the talent there. It’s kind of the black and blue division, everybody beats each other up. You play each other 17, 18 times. That really takes its toll.”
On who should be the favorite in the AL East: “You’ve got to look at the Yankees, they have earned that respect. You have to expect the Red Sox will bounce back and look what the Orioles and Rays have done. They have the confidence going in. Until we can do something like that, something like what the other teams have done, it’s better just to shut up. But we do like our talent.”
On the Orioles: “They are only going to get better. You have the young third baseman (Manny Machado) and Matt Wieters, who is just getting better and Adam Jones in center field who is really coming into his own and it looks like (Chris) Davis has found a home. And they have a good, solid pitching staff and they play good, solid defense. And they have Showalter. And now they’re feeling pretty good about themselves. Confidence, in this business can take you a long, long way.”