Blue Jays' GM attributes disappointing record to many factors, not just manager
TORONTO -- John Gibbons is not in danger of being dismissed and will return to the Blue Jays' dugout in 2014, according to general manager Alex Anthopoulos.
Gibbons has received a lot of criticism in recent weeks for the disappointing performance of his roster. The Blue Jays were expected to be in contention for a postseason spot, but they instead find themselves in last place in the American League East.
That sometimes creates the need for a scapegoat, but Anthopoulos was unequivocal in his support of Gibbons when pressed for answers on the manager's future status.
"Yes, there's never been any thought in that respect at all," Anthopoulos said when asked if Gibbons will be returning.
"John is our manager, and we expect him to be. But I understand what the response is. When you're not playing well as a team, these are the things that happen. You talk about the GM, the manager, you talk about the players ... people want a reason, and changes usually come when players aren't playing well and teams aren't performing. I think that comes with the territory."
Anthopoulos talked at length about the reasons behind his team's frustrating season. At the top of the list was an underwhelming performance by the starting rotation, which entered play on Tuesday with the second-worst ERA (5.03) in the Major Leagues. Also mentioned were some occasional struggles on offense and a lack of execution on defense, especially early on in the season.
While Anthopoulos faced the media on Tuesday, his Blue Jays team was preparing for a game against the Yankees. Toronto's record sat 14 games below .500, and the club has essentially been out of contention since the All-Star break. Toronto's GM said that all aspects of his organization will be reviewed at the end of the season, but despite that, Gibbons' job is safe.
When asked to expand on why he has so much loyalty toward the man he hired during the offseason, the fourth-year GM said he didn't think one individual is solely responsible for a season that clearly went off the rails.
"I actually think [regarding] the in-game managing, he has done a great job," Anthopoulos said of Gibbons. "I think it's so easy to pin results on one person. I think it's convenient. I could say that for myself. I could say that for certain players, for the manager. I just don't think blame falls on one person.
"When we're playing the way we have, I just don't think it falls on one person; it's collectively. There's blame to share -- that's probably the best way to put it. I just don't believe it's one thing, and that's the issue."
There is some irony in the fact that Anthopoulos' message was delivered on the same day that a potential return this season for right-hander Josh Johnson was ruled out due to a right forearm strain. Johnson was expected to be a big part of the team's success this year but instead finished the season with just two wins and an unsightly 6.20 ERA.
Combine Johnson's performance with the long-term absence of Ricky Romero, injuries to Brandon Morrow and J.A. Happ as well as the early inconsistency of knuckleballer R.A. Dickey, and it's relatively easy to see where things went wrong.
Toronto's projected starting rotation of Dickey, Morrow, Mark Buehrle, Johnson and Romero was supposed to be one of the best in baseball. Instead, the club ranks 27th in the Majors in innings (730 2/3), 28th in wins (33) and 29th in opponents' batting average (.277). Only Buehrle and Dickey have come even remotely close to being reliable.
"We've had three-fifths of our rotation in flux, whether it's through injury or performance," Anthopoulos said. "We've only had two mainstays in the rotation the entire year. That's not an excuse; that's just a fact. That comes to my chair, it comes down to the players, the staff, the training staff -- we're all accountable, to an extent, why things have gone the way they have. But to sit there and say it's one person, that doesn't make any sense. I think it's an easy out, to be honest with you."
Anthopoulos now must find a way to fix the flaws of his roster before the start of next season. It won't be easy, considering the free-agent market for starting pitching will be relatively weak in the coming offseason and the team seems to be almost tapped out financially.
Toronto already has approximately $110 million committed to a dozen players in 2014, while an additional $10 million or so will be handed out to players eligible for arbitration. The $120 million figure is essentially the same payroll the Blue Jays had this season, but the organization must find a way to add talent.
Johnson is also coming off the books as a free agent, and the Blue Jays could desperately use another frontline or mid-rotation starter. There are also potential holes at second base and in left field, which only increases the need for Anthopoulos to be creative this offseason.
"We're always looking to add," Anthopoulos said. "I don't know ultimately that it will be there. I don't think we're going to look to force anything, but we're always going to look to add. I think there's improvement we can get from within as well.
"If Brandon Morrow comes back next year and pitches somewhat close to what he was in 2012, I don't think anyone would be surprised, because the ability is there. R.A., I think, has been significantly better the last month or two. ... I could see him significantly better."