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Why the Cleveland connection matters, but should be forgotten

The Blue Jays are expected to interview several managerial candidates with connections to Cleveland in the past. While familiarity plays a role in a decision like this, hopefully it won’t be a significant deciding factor.

The first thing the Blue Jays will have to address this offseason is finding their next manager, and with not much else to talk about in regards to the team it’s already lead to plenty of rumours flying around.

In fact, Ken Rosenthal of the Athletic listed several candidates that are expected to be interviewed, and the list included Eric Wedge, John McDonald, David Bell, Stubby Clapp, and Sandy Alomar Jr.

Rosenthal rightly pointed out that everyone on the list of names he mentioned have ties to the Cleveland Indians organization with the exception of Clapp, and specifically during the tenure that current CEO/President Mark Shapiro, and GM Ross Atkins were employed there.

It’s certainly understandable that any front office would be interested in working with people they are already familiar with and confident in. We saw the previous GM in Alex Anthopoulos bring back John Gibbons for a second tour of duty because of the comfortable relationship they had, and the confidence he had in a skipper he’d already worked with. It’s also why many folks expected Gibbons to be dismissed once Atkins and Shapiro came to town, but they managed to make their relationship work on the fly for a few years.

Atkins has already talked about reaching out to 10 or more candidates, and eventually narrowing it down to five to be interviewed. While it’s possible the names above are the final five, it seems like it’s probably a little early in the process for that, and one would also think that Blue Jays bench coach DeMarlo Hale would get an interview for the job, as well as John Schneider, who won coach of the year with the Bisons in Triple-A this season.

It’s also entirely possible that the names that are surfacing are just being linked to the Blue Jays because of their Cleveland connections, however, there’s a good chance the list of candidates are probably going to get real consideration. Again, I don’t blame the front office for seeking a comfortable working relationship, but Atkins and Shapiro also achieved that first hand with Gibbons after coming to Toronto. Ultimately the job needs to go to the best candidate, and Atkins also described some of the things they’re looking for when talking to the media earlier in the week.

Wedge has significant managerial experience and has been considered by many to be waiting in the wings for Gibbons’ dismissal for a couple years now. He was hired with the Blue Jays in February of 2016 to join the front office as a player development advisor, and worked with Atkins and Shapiro in Cleveland as well. He has a career record of 774-846 in 10 seasons spent between Cleveland and Seattle, and at just 50 years old it wouldn’t be surprising at all to see him in a bench boss role again.

McDonald was a fan favourite in Toronto, and he strikes me and several others as the type that would make a great manager. That said, he doesn’t have any significant coaching experience at this stage, and outside of some time spent as a spring training instructor, would be a rookie coaching gamble similar to what we’ve seen other teams take in recent years. Bell had stints in Cleveland in 1995 and 1998 during his playing career, and has coaching in Double and Triple-A in the Reds’ organization since he retired.

Alomar Jr. is a Cleveland Indians legend as a 6x All-Star, playing 11 season for the Tribe from 1990-2000. He’s long been considered one of the top managerial candidates around Major League Baseball, but for one reason or another he’s yet to get the opportunity. Lastly, Clapp is a darling of the Team Canada baseball world, and has been very successful managing in Triple-A with the Cardinals organization, and twice winning manager of the year in the Pacific Coast League.

The five names that have surfaced so far make sense on one level or another, and it’s entirely possible the next skipper is within that group. However, I hope the Blue Jays front office looks beyond those five and at some of the other great minds around the game that are waiting for an opportunity. We know that the next manager probably won’t be someone like Buck Showalter, Joe Girardi, Jeff Banister, or Mike Scioscia, but it just goes to show the options with experience that will be available on the coaching market, not to mention the lesser names.

It also shows that the search has to extend beyond those that Atkins and Shapiro have worked with in ties to Cleveland in the past, simply because of the quality of options that exist. For what it’s worth, I’m willing to give them the benefit of the doubt that they’re just doing that, but I’ve always cringed at the thought of Wedge being the guy “in waiting”, just because I’ve always hoped they would pick the right guy for the right group when the time came.

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It’s hard to know who that might be yet as the roster turns over and the rebuild begins, but the front office knows they’re going to deal with a culturally diverse group of talented youngsters, and one that has real potential for greatness in Toronto. Choosing the right captain to guide those young players is no easy task, and hopefully they’re leaving no rock unturned, even if it’s never been to Ohio.



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