Saturday, June 21, 2008

Making Sense of the Senseless

It's hard to even enumerate all of the emotions that we've gone through over the past 24 hours.

Incredulous. Shocked. Dumbfounded. Dreadful. Sad. Angry.

It wasn't so much that we weren't expecting John Gibbons to get the can tied to him sometime soon. In fact, we had a pretty strong suspicion that, barring some magnificent onslaught this weekend, Gibby wasn't going to make it back to Toronto as the team's manager.

Not that we'd put this year's failings on Gibby. The manager's primary responsibility is to manager his pitching staff, and Gibbons has done that pretty admirably all season long. The pitching and defense haven't really failed Gibbons this season. To twist the cliché around, the issue is the offense, stupid.

And to be completely fair to Gibbons his job as manager is to look at the 14 names he has on his lineup card and pick the best nine in the best order that he can. We railed about his lineup madenss last year, but this year, Gibbons was faced with a team that is filled with decent number five, six and seven hitters, but no real three or four hitters. Scott Rolen, Alex Rios, Vernon Wells, Lyle Overbay...none of those players have delivered in those keystone slots in the lienup, but Gibbons has had little choice but to continue running them out there.

What the Jays had in terms of player personnel was not what they thought they had in the nascent stages of the season. There was a firm belief that the 2007 season was an all-around aberration, and that everything would return to normal this year. It was an article of faith that Wells would return to form after his injury, and that Overbay would be fine; at the same time, there was the assumption that Rios would continue to build on last year's fine results.

And yet, here we are in the middle of this mess, with an offense that literally has us looking with envy at the lineups of the Royals, Pirates and Orioles.

We've said it before, but it bears repeating. Very little of this is Gibby's fault, and to fire him for the failures of this team is unfair. Yet, the manager and coaching staff are invariably the first to fall when a team's front office begins to recognize that their plans have gone completely askew.

This clearly has been the worst week of J.P. Ricciardi's tenure as GM. Gibby was his guy, as were the other members of the coaching staff (with the exception of Ernie Whitt, a fact which is doubly ironic now). Gibbons apparently told Walt Jocketty (his former compadre in Oakland) that he lost his head with the caller on JaysTalk the other night because he was under stress from the knowledge that this cull of the coaching ranks was to come.

And perhaps most emasculating for the GM is this latest hiring, one that is hard to imagine came from him. The move to bring in Cito Gaston as the manager of the Jays is clearly not a baseball decision, and if Ricciardi suggested it (as Paul Godfrey told the press he did), then it is a last desperate act of someone who has seen the light at the end of the tunnel only to realize that it isn't daylight, but rather a hurtling locomotive.

Don't get us wrong: we've been pulling for Cito to get a managerial position for years. But this move nostalgic at best, and given a clear-eyed observation, it reeks of a shameful sort of cynicism. It seems like little more than pandering to the most casual baseball fans who want to return to the salad days of the franchise, but who take that desire far too literally.

(If Rogers really wants to see the team return to the good old days, then here's a shocking idea on which they won't ever follow up: have the highest payroll in the league. Seriously. Outspend the Yankees and Tigers and Mets and Red Sox. Because THAT is the reality of those monster WAMCO lineups that Cito could draw up in the days of yore.)

We'd be thrilled if we were wrong about this, but this move seems to us to signal the end of this season, and moreover, the end of this era of the Blue Jays. The idea that the team turns it around, or that J.P. is able to rebound and keep his position seems remote. The seven-year process of rebuilding has come up short thus far, and the dwindling numbers of fans at the SkyDome this season would indicate a fatigue amongst the fickle sports fans in Toronto.

But the saddest thing of all for us it that for the next three months, we have to sit at the bedside of the 2008 team, and hope against hope for signs of life.

It's an awful thing to be writing the post-mortem for your team's season in June.


Anonymous said...

well put.

Anonymous said...

It is pretty sad to see a competitive sport like baseball all come down to money. As I have mentioned to anyone who wants to listen, lets take the plunge to the bottom of the standings and except the fact we can not out spend the Red Sox and Yankees and build a team with 1st round draft picks like the Rays did.

Navin Vaswani (@eyebleaf) said...

wow. i must say i didn't expect you to throw in the towel on the season.

if not cito, then who? forget the fact that he coached here before. let's say he won his two world series elsewhere. what other manager out there has two world series rings on his resume, and also has some knowledge of this year's jays roster? other than cito, who?

Andrew said...

I wonder what we could get for 2 years of Doc.

Anonymous said...

Unloading a few players would be nice but I do not think it is a good idea. I did mention throwing in the towel and going for draft picks through the rebuilding process but it doesnt have to be that way.

I think the Jays just need to add another bat. With the likes of Rios, Wells, Overbay (not the greatest but still decent), and the young Lind one more bat that can give you these stats (.285, 25HR, & 100RBI) could really add a boost to the lineup.  With Hallayday, Burnett, McGowan, and Marcum the Jays have a strong pitching rotation. Now JP needs to grab a hitter. Too bad a .280, 25HR, & 100RBI guy doesn't grow on trees in High Park.

Anonymous said...

That's a fair assessment and unfortunately I agree. I just don't see a miracle turn-around from this bunch. Then again, that's why they are "miracles". It's really sad because if this team just had that one big bat, just one, they would be on top of the division. I really believe that. The makeup of this team is not fundamentally flawed as some cynics think. Rather I think this is a very well built team that is just missing that one piece.

Darren Priest said...

Is it weird that I get kinda nostalgic reading Dwayne Wise's name?

Tao of Stieb said...

Dude! It's DeWayne Wise. Like DEE-Wayne.