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Astros bench coach Espada a potential fit as Blue Jays manager

BOSTON – As A.J. Hinch continues to establish himself as one of the most progressive and successful managers in Major League Baseball, he has a shadow in the Houston Astros dugout.

Never far from Hinch’s side is bench coach Joe Espada, although the sense around the World Series champs is that he won’t be in that role for much longer.

The native of Puerto Rico has been mentioned in connection with several of the six vacant managerial vacancies around Major League Baseball. And sources close to the Blue Jays confirm that Espada is prominent among the team’s search to replace fired manager John Gibbons.

Prior to Sunday’s Game 2 of the ALCS, Hinch told the Toronto Sun that there’s a reason Espada is in demand based on how he’s fit in and thrived with the innovative coaching approach employed by the Astros.

“He’s tremendous,” Hinch said. “He’s so prepared in every aspect of the game which is one thing I ask out of the bench coaches. Just be prepared and detailed for me, for the players, for the sake of winning.

“He’s good with people. He’s good with information. He’s a winner.”

Given Hinch’s glowing report, it sounds like Espada is an ideal match for the qualities Jays general manager Ross Atkins outlined at the end of the season.

The Jays want a manager with big-league experience, but not necessarily in the lead role and Espada certainly fits. In his first year with the Astros after replacing current Red Sox manager, Alex Cora, Espada previously served three years with the Yankees as third base coach giving him a relevant wealth of experience in the AL East.

And in case you haven’t heard, the Jays have a fairly prominent future third baseman in Vlad Guerrero Jr., so Espada’s expertise with infielders is an attraction.

The fact that he speaks Spanish also wouldn’t hurt. The native of San Juan managed the Puerto Rico team at the 2017 World Baseball Classic. He also has some front office experience previously having worked as a special assistant to Yankees general manager Brian Cashman.

For obvious competitive reasons, Atkins was reluctant to comment on specific candidates the team has contacted. In a phone interview Sunday afternoon, however, he said he was impressed with how the search process is unfolding.

“We are confident we are going to end up with a leader we are excited about,” Atkins said.

Wherever Espada lands, Hinch believes the team that employs him will be getting someone major league ready, much as the Red Sox found with Cora, who led the team to a 108-win season.

Without naming teams, Hinch confirmed that Espada has already spoken with multiple organization of which the Jays are believed to be one. There are currently six teams with managerial vacancies.

“I’m not surprised (of the interest in Espada),” Hinch said. “All he needs is an opportunity. There are so many qualified people around the game that get more exposure because of the different teams they are on and different situations.

“He’s detailed and he’s tremendous with infield positioning. He’s going to be a really good manager.”

Once the decision was made to part ways with Gibbons, the Jays outlined a game plan for the next manager. The initial plan was to start with a field of 10 or more candidates with phone interviews and narrowing that down to five or so for in-person sessions. 

Atkins acknowledged that circumstances – such as a candidate in hot command – could expedite the process. Others believed to be on the list include Canadian Stubby Clapp – who has earned rave reviews in the St. Louis Cardinals organization and Cleveland third-base coach Sandy Alomar Jr.

As it relates to the process involving Espada, the Astros have certainly been through this dance recently. During last year’s playoffs, Cora had a number of interviews with other teams before the Red Sox announced him as their new manager just prior to the opening game of the World Series.

Hinch and the Astros expect more of the same over the next couple of weeks as the courting of Espada continues from the Blue Jays and others.


Hinch revealed a little more about the falling out with one-time closer Ken Giles, who was dealt to the Jays at the trade deadline for Roberto Osuna.

Essentially with the variety of high-end talent in his bullpen, Hinch wants some of those arms to be versatile to handle assignments beyond strictly save situations and work multiple innings when needed.

“It was nothing against Kenny, Ken served as very well,” Hinch said, before suggesting otherwise. “He had some ups and downs. In a lot of ways what we tried to do with him is what a lot of managers are doing with relievers, what they call the Andrew Miller role nowadays … and it just didn’t work.

“It opened up opportunities for us to add really good relievers to balance things out a little bit.”


It’s generally understood that players and managers have a longer leash in the playoffs of any sport before getting tossed.

But when Cora rather vociferously disputed a controversial called strike on Andrew Benintendi that ended the fifth inning on Saturday, the rookie Red Sox manager was sent to his office in the Boston clubhouse.

“You can’t argue balls and strikes and I did,” Cora said somewhat sheepishly. “It’s kind of embarrassing that it happens in the playoffs. That wasn’t cool watching the game in the clubhouse.

“I’ve got a job to do and that’s manage the team in the dugout. But sometimes you gotta do what you gotta do you and you’ve got to defend you players. If you feel I overreacted so be it. But from my end I didn’t feel I did.”

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