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Blue Jays in familiar spot with managerial opening

There have been other crossroads managerial decisions in Toronto Blue Jays history, you know.

Sometimes it didn’t seem that obvious. I mean, you can argue that one of the most providential happenings in franchise history was when New York Yankees owner George Steinbrenner refused to allow Lou Piniella to leave the broadcast booth, which opened the door for Cito Gaston as Jimy Williams’ replacement. Look: Pat Gillick did a lot of really good things as general manager but the man who brought back-to-back World Series to this city was not his first choice. It was a default pick that worked out.

Fast forward to the spring of 1999 when Jim Fregosi was brought in as a wise, old, hand after Tim Johnson’s tall tales about his Vietnam service embarrassed an organization that had lost its way after those World Series. Fregosi was never appreciated for the job he did in 2000, when the Blue Jays finished in third place in the American League East, 4 ½ games out.

And, of course, there was the job John Gibbons did: Gibby 2.0 helped re-establish the Blue Jays brand after the organization was knifed in the back by John Farrell. Forget the low-talking, aw shucks persona: Gibbons was as much a man for his time as was Gaston.

But when Blue Jays general manager Ross Atkins meets the media on Tuesday for the first time since Gibbons’ farewell news conference, it will signal the official start of the next “crossroads” appointment. Gaston inherited a seasoned crew that was familiar with him from his time as hitting coach. Indeed, some of his players lobbied him to take the job. Fregosi was a mind-bender: hire the guy who was sitting in the opposing dugout when Joe Carter touched ‘em all. Thumb your nose at the baseball gods. It remains today one of my favourite decisions this franchise ever made, in part because Fregosi was just freaking brilliant to be around.

Atkins would have to hire Farrell, Jeff Banister or Buck Showalter to match Gord Ash’s move to bring in Fregosi. Not happening. As much as there is chatter that contact has already been made through back channels with current MLB Network broadcaster Sean Casey about a job with the Blue Jays – no one’s clear whether it’s to manage or coach – that would seem to be a bit of a bold gamble for a guy with a GM’s resume such as Atkins, who is in many ways still cutting his teeth in the role. I mean, it’s one thing for Brian Cashman to reach into the broadcast booth for Aaron Boone, another for Atkins.

My sense is the new man will have MLB playing and coaching experience. He will need to be more than simply open to analytics; he will need to embrace them. You will see Blue Jays outfielders with index cards for positioning; you will see catchers wearing wristbands with more complicated signs and you will see infield drills become a regular staple in-season: not simply something to do between swings in the cage. Being able to speak Spanish is, I think, a must since the next two years are all going to be about Vladimir Guerrero Jr., and while I buy my Baseball Central co-host Kevin Barker’s opinion that it is the hitting coach who will spend the most time with Guerrero, I think it’s vital that the new guy be attuned to Latino sensibilities. So perhaps hiring a recent player such as Carlos Beltran or Victor Martinez to be on the staff won’t be enough alone.

The guy I’m keeping an eye on is Sandy Alomar Jr., the Cleveland Indians first-base coach and brother of Saint Roberto of Alomar. True, he’s interviewed for several managing jobs in the past without being chosen but he has a comfort level with the guys running things and while I can hear the anti-Cleveland crowd carping, let me ask you this: even if it’s someone else that Atkins and/or president and chief executive officer Mark Shapiro know well from a previous movie, wasn’t comfort level the predominant reason for Alex Anthopoulos choosing Gibbons?

NOW TWEET THIS …

We go on a random trip around a MLB regular season so damned good it won’t end on time …

• Nobody asked, but here we go anyhow: NL MVP – Christian Yelich; NL Cy Young Max Scherzer; NL manager of the year: Craig Counsell; NL rookie of the year: Juan Soto. #andnowtheAL

• Nobody asked, but here we go anyhow: AL MVP: Mookie Betts; AL Cy Young: Blake Snell; AL manager of the year: Bob Melvin; AL rookie of the year: Gleyber Torres. #easy

• The Blue Jays managerial opening is the best one out there. I don’t want any part of the Orioles or Reds, if they’re open, and the guy with the Angels has the wind down of Albert Pujols’s career while living through Mike Trout’s negotiations. The Jays and Rangers are the jobs I’d want. #careeropportunities

The Lede with Jeff Blair and Stephen Brunt

Episode 15: Goodbye, Gibby

October 01 2018

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• The Blue Jays were interested in Yelich until the Marlins asked for local kid Bo Bichette. Yelich should be NL MVP and has sick stats this month, going without consecutive outs from an eighth-inning groundout on Tuesday until back-to-back strikeouts Sunday. #roll

• Asterisks are us: Yes, Yelich’s statistics in Game 163 will count towards the Triple Crown. He’s one homer behind Nolan Arenado of the Rockies and two RBIs behind Javier Baez of the Cubs #history

• The Athletics’ Khris Davis has a wild career stats line: he’s hit .247 exactly in each of the last four seasons while jacking up his home run totals thusly: 27, 42, 43 and 48. #crazy

• Don’t blame the Dodgers for being upset that the Nationals didn’t run out Scherzer as scheduled in Sunday’s finale against the Rockies. The Nationals need a reset, folks. There’s an Expos curse at work with this franchise. #nosamours

• Early take on free agency: Bryce Harper ends up with the Phillies or Yankees; Manny Machado sticks with the Dodgers or ends up with the Giants. #feedingfrenzy

THE ENDGAME

Maybe this is unfair. But I keep hearing how deep the Toronto Maple Leafs are and with the regular season less than 72 hours away the team has cut down to 26 players with several free agents still hanging around and a number of Marlies either let go or still on the bubble. Look: there is no doubt that this is a good team and I think they’re primed for a deep playoff run but – I don’t know – I expected more from some of the kids and find it somewhat concerning that the likes of Tyler Ennis and Igor Ozhiganov can make this team so easily and that Garret Sparks failed to grab an opportunity to make his case. Hey, it beats the hell out of some of the other big picture stuff we’re used to discussing, but, still …

Jeff Blair hosts The Jeff Blair Show from 9 a.m.-noon ET on Sportsnet 590/The Fan and also co-hosts ‘The Lede,’ a podcast with Stephen Brunt.

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