Why John Gibbons Is the Right Man to Lead the Blue Jays
A multi-year extension with manager John Gibbons is reportedly in the works, and it makes perfect sense for Toronto.
Photo by Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports
John Gibbons is an easy manager for a writer to like. He's a true character. An eminently GIF-able misfit who used to fight his players and speaks in half-drawl, half-mumble. A member, if only briefly, of the legendary 1986 Mets. A players' manager who has charmed the local media here in Toronto into calling him almost exclusively by his nickname, and has now charmed a third Blue Jays regime into letting him lead the club on the field.
Gibbons will sign a contract extension with the Blue Jays in the near future, likely before opening day. The latest report, from MLB Network Radio, suggests it will cover 2018 and 2019, with a club option for 2020.
This is a great thing for the Blue Jays. And not just for those writing about the club.
Evaluating a manager is difficult. Much of what one does is unquantifiable, and it's easy for arguments for and against a manager to break down on sabermetric and non-sabermetric lines. Cito Gaston still gets lambasted for his strategic deficiencies, for example, but lauded for his ability to teach his players how to pick up an opponent's tells. And, of course, for his results.
John Gibbons certainly has his own foibles when it comes to strategy, and trails far behind a manager like Cito when it comes to results, but as much as fans want to view sports as a results-based business, more and more the process matters. And though he's far from perfect in terms of process—far from perfect in terms of applying lefty-righty splits in his lineup construction or bullpen management, far from perfect in putting his players in the absolute, unassailably best position to succeed—there is a tremendous amount to like about Gibbons.
Gibbons hits his best hitter second, refusing to hew to tradition in doing so. He's experimented with hitting Jose Bautista in the leadoff spot. He handled Aaron Sanchez's innings limitations last season with aplomb. He's on board with the Blue Jays' new age-y training methods and their embrace of the club's new high performance department. He's not rigid when it comes to reliever usage—he doesn't make a habit of managing to the save (though he does it sometimes), and he's shown a willingness this spring to consider someone like Joe Biagini as a multi-inning guy.
If something is unorthodox but well reasoned by the front office, or by his players, Gibbons seems open to it. He's easygoing, but he's no pushover either. Ted Lilly and Shea Hillenbrand can attest to that. So can the reporters who poke and prod, trying to bait Gibbons into saying something he'd rather not. There's a wall there, and you don't cross it. And it's especially visible when it comes to standing up for his players.
This particular group of Blue Jays adds another dimension to why Gibbons for this team right now makes perfect sense. Troy Tulowitzki isn't going anywhere anytime soon. Neither is Russell Martin, nor Josh Donaldson. Gibbons doesn't have to be the only adult in the room—and while it's unfair to Mark Buehrle or R.A. Dickey or Edwin or Jose or Vernon Wells or Scott Rolen or Roy Halladay to say that he had been in previous iterations of this club, the culture certainly is rather different. These Blue Jays aren't demoralized by the big bad Yankees and Red Sox of the mid-2000s, nor are they beset with high-upside talents who maybe aren't quite striving as hard as they could be to be true professionals and make the most of their talents.
Which is to say: As much as nobody can really understand a clubhouse dynamic if they're not in it, it at least seems like having Gibbons on a veteran-filled team with a real purpose and high expectations of themselves is an asset—a flexible, calming presence, and a buffer between the players and the distraction of the media.
Is that enough to make a manager's re-signing a celebratory event? In tangible terms maybe it isn't. But managers live in the world of the intangible, and John Gibbons is just about as intangibly brilliant as it gets.