There are three options available for Anthopoulos to correct the obvious clubhouse dysfunction that surfaced on the final weekend in Baltimore: 1) Replace Cito Gaston and therefore, with him, third base coach Nick Leyva and batting coach Gene Tenace; 2) keep Gaston as manager and replace Leyva and, perhaps, Tenace; 3) Replace pitching coach Brad Arnsberg with someone from within the organization that knows the young starters.
As much as I like Cito, I believe Option 1, replacing the manager, is the best course of action for the Jays moving forward. Gaston has already indicated that 2010 is likely his final season as manager after which he wants to kick back and play more golf while maintaining some kind of role with the Jays. If they replace him, he still gets his $2.5 million salary for 2010 which is at least what he deserves as a belated reward for the two World Championships in the ’90s and the 11 years away from the game as manager. He could stay on as a senior advisor to Anthopoulos in whatever way he sees fit.
Make no mistake about it. Cito’s presence was important to the franchise in replacing John Gibbons back in June of ’08. He taught young hitters like Lind the importance of having a “plan” every time you step into the batter’s box. Lind ran with it. But after the key injuries to the rotation and the Vernon Wells and Alex Rios debacle seasons, the Jays in ’09 took a step back to 1997 levels of incompetence and we know how that turned out for Gaston. Not well. He works better with veteran players who are self-driven.
Option 3, getting rid of Arnsberg and keeping Cito would not work. Arnsberg is like a father and a brother to the pitching staff and by the end of the season, their relationship with the manager was only through Arnsberg. That explains the pitchers complaint of no communication with the manager. The replacement of their father-confessor in blue would mean an irreparable rift with Gaston and his pitchers.
Option 2 is not an option either because without his hand-picked coaches and good friends, Gaston would be isolated, especially on the road. He doesn’t need this gig that much.
So if they are going to replace Gaston, with whom should they make the managerial change? The perfect short-term candidate is Buck Showalter, currently an analyst for ESPN. Showalter in his career has shown an ability to turn teams around in a hurry. Of course, afterwards, he wears out his welcome and moves on – sort of baseball’s Mike Keenan. Showalter’s first gig was ’92 with the Yankees. The Bombers hadn’t been to the post-season since 1981. Following the strike in ’94, the Yankees went to the playoffs in ’95 losing to the M’s with a bunch of homegrown guys he had managed in the minors. George Steinbrenner fired him after the loss to the Mariners and brought in Joe Torre.
Buck was hired by the expansion Diamondbacks in ’96 to manage when they started play in ’98. The Snakes went from last place to 100 wins in ’99, but missed the playoffs in ’00 and he was fired. The D’backs went on to win the ’01 World Series with Showaltger’s team but without Showalter. In 2003 he took over the Texas Rangers who went from 71 wins his first year to 89 his second. They fired him after the ’06 season, following two straight sub-.500 finishes. Short-term solution? Yes. Effective in the short-term? Yes.
Anthopoulos, before he was named GM, acknowledged that he has talked to Showalter professionally in the past and mentioned him on the conference call when he revamped the front office. On that same call, he also mentioned Dana Brown who he has subsequently hired. Other connections? Brian Butterfield was a coach under Showalter with the D’backs and also worked with him in the Yankee organization. Jays’ minor league field coordinator Doug Davis worked with Showalter in Texas, as did Perry Minasian, Jays’ new director, pro scouting. If you want a quick turnaround using a guy you could sell to disgruntled fans in the off-season, Showalter’s the one. He has also been mentioned in the Nationals’ manager search.
The mailbag will be taking a hiatus for several weeks until free-agent season is underway in mid November - or unless there is a special need to answer some mail before that. In any case, on to the mailbag.
Q: Hi Richard,
First, it was a huge relief to learn about the much-anticipated end of J.P. Ricciardi's tenure. Now, what can we expect from Alex Anthopoulos? Is he simply the J.P. protege who was perhaps partly responsible for the notorious Ricciardi-era contracts, or do you expect different tactics from A.A.? Does he have the baseball knowledge, the business sense, the media savvy and the people skills to have a real impact in MLB?
Chris M., Collingwood
A: Not to be overly simplistic, but the difference for the Jays between the Ricciardi regime past and the Anthopoulos years to come is like the difference between two countries - one governed by a dictatorship and another by a parliamentary system. Yes, the Ricciardi statue in the village square has been toppled and democracy takes over, signaling the dawn of a new Blue Jays day.
Next let’s go down the list of Anthopoulos attributes in your question, “does he have…” Baseball knowledge? Yes, and in addition to his own knowledge (he skipped a few grades okay) he listens to his advisors and then makes the decision he thinks is right.
Business sense? No, but that is what the new CEO will bring and the Rogers people have plenty of business sense. If you doubt that, check your monthly wireless, cable, bundling statement.
Media savvy? Not yet, but there has already been a tremendous difference in confidence and attitude between the A.A. we saw on the final weekend in Baltimore when he sat at Paul Beeston’s left elbow at the podium and machine-gunned his way through an opening statement and the calmer, more in charge A.A. that announced on a conference call with passion and conviction the changes in scouting and player development and the direction in which he saw the Jays moving.
People skills? I believe sincerity and respect for your audience goes a long way in terms of demonstrating “people skills”. A.A. has a lot of that because he himself was a fan not too long ago.
As for making a difference, the innovative Aaron Hill contract is an example of what Anthopoulos can bring to the Jays. Even though it was similar in dollars to many others, it was the first of its kind in many respects and was seemingly lifted by the Rays months later when they announced their contract with Evan Longoria. The Jays have him locked up through the years 2010-14 for $4 million, then $5M, $8M, $8M and $10M. The final two years are the first two years of his free agency. The last three years are club options that must be exercised or rejected following the 2011 season. It’s not a player opt-out like A.J. Burnett and Vernon Wells. If the economy had changed for the worse, the Jays could have an option to get out from under the deal, yet the player agreed to the deal because it was all guaranteed and was fair to him financially throughout his arbitration years. Agents and players like it when they know that there is some wiggle room to sweeten a deal using imagination.
Q: Hi Richard,
Any thoughts yet on the location for the Jays' farm system clubs in 2010? It seems to me that the AAA team should be somewhere in North East North America in order to compete with the Yankee and Red Sox farm clubs. By the way, it's a great experience to attend a AA game in Manchester, New Hampshire. Newer ballpark, comfortable and affordable seating and a look at the up and coming players in the different organizations.
Dave McLeod, Sussex, NB
A: I’m pretty sure that they are still in contractual agreement with all of their farm cities, including Las Vegas. But I had a conversation with Anthopoulos several months before he got the new gig. He talked with a real sense of regret about the loss of Canadian cities in affiliated farm systems. I believe that at every level of the system, A.A. will at least explore the possibility of using a Canadian town as the farm affiliate. How about a Triple-A team somewhere in the Montreal area? How about re-converting Jarry Park from tennis back to baseball in the International League?
Q: Why doesn't Jim Balsillie buy the Blue Jays? I mean, if he wants to be a professional sports owner, why not step up and be a Canadian owner for Canada's only MLB Franchise. If he's willing to buy the Coyotes for $250 million, surely he can afford to buy the Jays. Plus, it's probably a good forum to move some Blackberry's.
Jordan Sharon, Toronto
A: Maybe he should, but there would be problems. When Labatt engineered the awarding of the original expansion franchise in 1976 for the ’77 season they made sure the team name BLUE Jays related one of their top products, Labatt Blue. Marketing and all that. So if Balsillie purchased the club, he would likely change either the name of the ballclub or the name of his signature product. It could either be “Black Jays” or else you would be surfing on your hand-held “Blueberry.” And they would have to reverse the recent Anthopoulos philosophy of de-emphasizing Pacific RIM scouting.
Seriously, I think you have to have a passion for a sport if you’re going to own it as an individual for anything other than a business investment. Balsillie clearly has a passion for hockey, but I’m not sure it translates to baseball. I believe if the Jays are ever sold, that Paul Beeston would be able to round up a group of rich guys that love baseball.