As Blue Jays general manager Ross Atkins and manager Charlie Montoyo conducted their search for Toronto’s 2019 coaching staff, they were looking for two characteristics above all else: open-mindedness and a willingness to collaborate.
The search began after Montoyo became the 13th manager in club history in late October and officially ended Tuesday night when the club announced its staff — Dave Hudgens (bench), Guillermo Martinez (hitting), Pete Walker (pitching), Mark Budzinski (first base), Luis Rivera (third base), Matt Buschmann (bullpen), Shelley Duncan (field co-ordinator) and John Schneider, who will focus on developing major league catching.
“I’m confident that this staff will collaborate . . . what I am confident in, is that these guys are going to work together, they’re going to have a sincere thirst for information, for being open-minded to trying things, to doing things differently,” Atkins said during a conference call Wednesday morning.
“It really just comes down to my confidence in their character, each of them have that thirst and curiosity for all the information that is available to them.”
Montoyo’s eight-man staff is bigger than John Gibbons’ seven-man staff in 2018 and significantly younger. The average age of a Jays coach last year was 54 years old; now, it’s 45.2 years. It’s Schneider’s role that make the one-man difference, while Duncan’s field co-ordinator role is a slight shift from the quality control coach they’ve employed since 2017, a role first filled by Derek Shelton and then by Mike Mordecai in 2018.
Getting younger wasn’t a priority for Atkins, though he believes coaching hires are trending that way across baseball because of the innovation occurring in today’s game when it comes to information and technology. Younger coaches have been steeped in the rapidly changing environment both as players — every member of this staff cracked the big leagues but for Martinez and Schneider — and as coaches.
Bringing in coaches from other organizations — Hudgens from the Houston Astros, Budzinski from the Cleveland Indians, Buschmann from the San Francisco Giants and Duncan from the Arizona Diamondbacks, to go with Montoyo from the Tampa Bay Rays — wasn’t necessarily a goal of Atkins’ either, though he said it is a benefit to learn from different approaches and different organizations.
Most important, Atkins said, was that the coaches aligned with the club “from a values perspective, and philosophically.”
“There were a lot of open staffs with all the managerial changes, a lot of hats changing, the competition for staff members was significant and I think the respect that others have for Charlie Montoyo, his leadership through the process, was very encouraging for our future because . . . almost all of (the new coaches) had really strong alternatives,” Atkins said.
Their predecessors left jobless — Gibbons, Mordecai, DeMarlo Hale, Brook Jacoby, Dane Johnson and Tim Leiper — were free to talk to other clubs from the last day of the season, Atkins said. Gibbons, Jacoby, Leiper and Johnson are all under contract through 2019.
“We want nothing more than the best for each of them and we’ll try to help them either land with us in a significant way or elsewhere,” Atkins said.
Now that the coaching staff is sorted, the Jays can turn their full attention to their rebuilding roster.
The next date circled on the calendar by big-league teams is Friday’s non-tender deadline, the deadline for clubs to tender contracts to arbitration-eligible players.
Toronto has 10 arbitration-eligible players on its roster: starting pitchers Aaron Sanchez and Marcus Stroman; relievers Ken Giles, Ryan Tepera and Joe Biagini; infielder Yangervis Solarte, Devon Travis and Brandon Drury; and outfielders Randal Grichuk and Kevin Pillar.
The Jays declined Solarte’s $5.5 million option for 2019 in October, after his slash line regressed for a second straight season to .226/.227/.378 in 122 games in 2018. The third baseman remained on Toronto’s 40-man roster when it was finalized ahead of the Rule 5 draft but he’s expected to be non-tendered by Friday. Any player who is non-tendered becomes a free agent.
For Atkins’ part, the general manager seems clear on who will — or won’t — be staying put come week’s end.
“I don’t think we’ll have decisions that go down to the wire on that front.”
Laura Armstrong is a sports reporter based in Toronto. Follow her on Twitter: @lauraarmy