The Blue Jays are in the midst of a search for their next manager, and a former player by the name of Chris Woodward could, and should be a serious candidate.
Right now the Blue Jays are smack dab in the middle of their search for their next manager, and it sounds like the process is well underway from reports coming out over this past week.
There have been several names linked to the interview process, including guys like Eric Wedge, Stubby Clapp, Sandy Alomar Jr., John McDonald, and several more. Our own Hayden Godfrey did a run down of the rumoured candidates yesterday as well, and the list of pretty lengthy.
Among the group reportedly considered is one coach who is still working in this years playoffs for the Los Angeles Dodgers. Chris Woodward has been the third base coach in L.A. for the last three seasons, and also handles duties as the infield coach. He’s done well in his post in L.A. for the past three seasons, and was valued well liked in Seattle for three years before that as a minor league instructor, infield coach, and first base coach.
Woodward has been a name that’s come up as a potential manager before, and he even made it to the final phase of the interview process with the Yankees last year before they ultimately decided to go with Aaron Boone. I’m sure there were a variety of reasons for that, but one of them may have been the organizational familiarity with Boone in New York.
The Blue Jays have that in common when it comes to Woodward, who played in Toronto from 1999-2004, and returned at the end of his career for an 11 game stint in 2011, playing the vast majority of his last two seasons with Triple-A Las Vegas. He was never a star player by any means, and slashed .239/.296/.365 in just over 1700 career plate appearances, but the blue collar utility man found a way to extend his career into parts of 12 big league seasons, which is no small feat.
He was well traveled throughout his career as well, spending a lot of time in Triple-A as a depth piece with both the Blue Jays and with the Mets, Braves, Mariners, and Red Sox. Being a guy to frequent the shuttle and spend most of his time in the minor leagues required a great deal of perseverance, and a love and dedication to the game. That was further evidenced when he went into coaching immediately after retiring at the age of 36, and he’s still enjoying being around the game on an every day basis.
If you go looking for some information on Woodward as a coach, a lot of what you’ll find should sound pretty encouraging in today’s game. Back in 2016, John Lott of Vice Sports did a great article on Woodward’s experience, his goals, and his philosophy about the game. Granted, this article was written two years ago, but if you take the time to read it then I’m sure you’ll be as encouraged about his candidacy as I am. (Also, a hat tip to @BVHJays with the tweet above that helped me find the article).
The piece details a story that I had forgotten about, of when Woodward was signed to return to the Blue Jays organization in 2011 at the end of his career. He had shown up to spring training assuming that his playing career was over, and was sniffing around looking for potential work as a coach, and seeing what his post-playing career might look like. At that time the Blue Jays had a need for another depth infielder, and had the forethought to see Woodward as someone who would be a great mentor for his young teammates. Lott describes a man that “sounded like a coach” while he was still an active player, and it was pretty clear where his career would go when he hung out his glove.
As I mentioned above, I am encouraged by a few of the things that Woodward said in the interview with Lott, especially his philosophies around the newer analytics being employed in baseball these days. The Dodgers are well known as one of the leaders in the field, and there’s no doubt that Woodward has been taking in as much information as he can through his three years in L.A., and throughout his coaching and playing experiences before that.
“From a game-management standpoint, I love hearing people’s ideas. And we’ve got all these numbers nowadays—analytics—and they reveal a lot of flaws in traditional baseball thinking: playing outfielders shallow as opposed to deep, the infield shifts, all that stuff. It makes sense. I love it.”
Having a keen interest in analytics is important, and so is having a passion for studying those numbers and applying them with confidence. Lott also talks about Woodward’s interest in being a manager someday, and even the fact that he’s mentally preparing for the opportunity that he hopes will come up one day.
“Obviously I have a job to do from an infield (coaching) standpoint and a third-base coach standpoint,” he says, “but I’m constantly thinking about the game—what would I do here? Just trying to get ahead of the curve.”
He’s been through a lot of experiences since then, helping the Dodgers get to the World Series last year, and they are currently in the NLCS and hoping to get another chance at an elusive title. While I’m sure he’s laser-focused on the job at hand, I’m sure he’s got a potential opportunity as a MLB manager in the back of his mind. He got a taste of it with New Zealand in the World Baseball Classic, a short test that he reportedly passed with flying colours, and now it’s just a matter of waiting for the opportunity to come up in the big leagues.
With the Blue Jays sounding like they’re already moving in the process, that doesn’t necessarily play in Woodward’s favour. According to Sportnet’s Shi Davidhi, it sounds like the in-person interview process may start as soon as next week, however it’s also noted that things “may not wrap up until the end of next week or later”, according to MLBtraderumors.com. They also note that the Blue Jays “are mindful of the concurrent managerial searches around the league and willing to ramp up the speed if need be.”
For Woodward, it may come down to whether or not the Blue Jays feel they’ve found the right guy in the early stages of the interview process, but it would be a shame if the Dodgers’ success spoiled his chances at getting at least an interview in Toronto. It’s a landing spot that would make a lot of sense given his history with the organization, and looking at his resume and his reputation, it looks like he could be a pretty solid choice.
He may not have been a star when he was a player, but those guys don’t necessarily make the best coaches anyway. He’s a hard-working individual who has been around the game a long time, and spent a lot of time in the dugout observing, and chatting with his coaches. From the sounds of it, he’s been trying to be a sponge for information since long before his playing career was over, and the 42 year old may be ready to take the next step in his career. The more I read about him and think about it the more it makes sense to me, and I hope he’s been given real consideration.