Q&A with John Gibbons
Skipper praises '08 Blue Jays as best he's seen in Toronto
John Gibbons is entering his fourth season as the Blue Jays' manager. This time around, Gibbons is quick to say that the team he's been charged with leading is the best group he's had at his disposal. A strong pitching staff and a lineup that appears to be returning to full strength have Gibbons excited about the upcoming campaign, pushing any concerns about his job status to the back of his mind.
MLB.com: Watching this team for the first few weeks down here in Florida, they seem a lot looser and they're having a lot of fun. Do you see that as a sign of confidence with this group?
Gibbons: Yeah, I do. Hey, it's Spring Training. We're here to get in shape and come together as a team. We've got three or four new additions, so we have to start all over and get to know each other again. We're a relaxed group and we're a confident group. There's no reason to be tense. When you step on the field and it's time to play the game, the intensity is there. But it's a game you have to have fun with. It's still a kid's game and sometimes you still need to act like a kid.
MLB.com: Earlier this spring, Roy Halladay made a comment about last year's clubhouse, saying that it seemed like a sense of urgency was lacking in the room. How do you think some of these new additions -- Scott Rolen and David Eckstein, for example -- can help that?
Gibbons: You know what happens when you have a lot of young players on your team who are trying to establish themselves? They're so concerned about doing their job and making a name for themselves and succeeding, to show that they belong, that sometimes they're consumed with what they're doing. Now, the team we break with, pretty much everyone who will be on the team, as it stands right now, has established themselves. So there shouldn't be any more doubts in their minds. Now, all the focus is on, "Hey, we're going out there to win."
MLB.com: Do you feel bringing in those guys who have World Series experience can help the younger players realize that attitude even more?
Gibbons: You can never have enough guys who have been through it and won at this level. That's huge, especially if you get down at certain times, those are guys you can lean on. They might have something to say to a young kid when things get tough, and when you're in the heat of it that might make a world of difference for those guys.
MLB.com: You've said multiple times that this is the best club that you've had since being the manager in Toronto. What specifically makes you say that?
Gibbons: Well, the question marks in the pitching department have been answered. It comes down to a couple of decisions we're going to make, but it's not like we're leaning on somebody who hasn't done something, or a veteran guy who may be on his last leg. You look around, defensively we're very strong. The addition of Rolen and Eckstein -- two proven hitters -- will solidify that offense. The big thing is the pitching staff. Every year, we come in and there's usually at least two holes, sometimes maybe even three, and you're not sure how you're going to fill them. This year, we don't have that and that's what wins for you.
An up-close look at the club as we approach Opening Day
MLB.com: A lot of the focus this spring and over the winter were on teams like the Red Sox and Yankees, as usual, as well as the Tigers, Angels and the Mariners, with the additions they've made. It seems like the Blue Jays have been flying under the radar. Do you like it that way?
Gibbons: That's fine. We haven't accomplished anything. We've had a couple of solid seasons, but we still haven't been knocking on the door at the end to get to the postseason. So that's naturally the way it goes, especially in our division. It's always Yankees-Red Sox, Red Sox-Yankees. You get recognition and people might predict that you could do this or do that, and they might like your team, but the reality of the way the division and the game's been the last, I don't know how many years, it's always been those two teams. Until somebody shakes that up, then you're always going to go under the radar.
MLB.com: If this team does succeed and does compete in the American League East, you won't be surprised, though?
Gibbons: No, because I like our team. We're strong and one thing you can say about the last few years is that we've competed against those teams. In the end, over 162 games, we haven't been able to maintain it, but when we go head-to-head against those guys, in our division particularly, we've played them pretty tough.
MLB.com: If the team doesn't meet its expectations early on, is it hard not to keep concerns about your job status or general manager J.P. Ricciardi's status in the back of your mind?
Gibbons: I'm not worried. I can't get caught up in that because that would be a distraction. I've got my way of doing things and each day I go out and do it, and I believe it works. We'll see, but there's too many other things in this job that you have to focus on, regardless of your security. I'm not just saying that, either -- I mean that. In the end, it'll either work or it won't.
MLB.com: As far as the pitching staff goes, how hard do you think it's going to be for guys like Dustin McGowan and Shaun Marcum to repeat the success they had last year?
Gibbons: Personally, I expect them both to be better. They'll be doing for the whole six months. They're two totally different types of pitchers, but they both have everything they need. You look at Dustin, he's got as good of stuff as anybody out there. And Marcum's so far ahead with his style of pitching, for his experience level. They both know how to win and, I think if you run a full six months with them, I expect them to be even better.
MLB.com: It goes without saying that putting them behind guys like Halladay, who can sometimes be taken for granted because of how consistent he is, and a pitcher with so much potential in A.J. Burnett, you've got to be pretty excited about the possibilities for that staff this year.
Gibbons: Oh, yeah. Doc's going to give you his normal year. He's going to lead us and he's going to win a lot of games. A.J., the big thing for him is he's got to stay healthy and make his 30-plus starts. He's pitched very, very good for us when he's been out on the field, but the last two years he hasn't been out there for full years.
MLB.com: Are you surprised at all by the strides B.J. Ryan has made in his comeback from the Tommy John elbow reconstruction surgery he had last May?
Gibbons: A little bit, but knowing the individual, not really. Even then, you can be strong willed and if it doesn't heal as fast as you want it to that still matters. But they're so far advanced in the surgeries they do and the technology they use nowadays that it's really not that surprising anymore.
MLB.com: Even if he is ready by Opening Day, are you comfortable enough with Jeremy Accardo that he can get saves in April and kind of ease Ryan back into that closer role?
Gibbons: That's big. We're still going to have to watch B.J. He'll be our guy, but still, you can't push him too fast. You've got to watch him on back-to-back nights and things like that. Early on, I think you've got to be careful with that. So now you've got a guy in Accardo, who saved 30 games in his first run as a closer last year, that's huge. You've got a pretty good one-two punch out there now.
MLB.com: Like Ryan, you've got a lot of guys coming back from injuries: Vernon Wells, Lyle Overbay, Gregg Zaun, Brandon League and Rolen, to name a few. From what you've seen in these last few weeks, does it look like everyone's responding well?
Gibbons: Yeah, Lyle looks good. He's showing no aftereffect from that hand injury. Vernon, with that shoulder, usually guys will look a little tight or a little stiff, but he's got none of that. Rolen's bounced back from his shoulder injury. Zaunie, he had the broken hand last year and that effected his throwing. His ball's got much better carry on it this year. League, he's starting to look like the old guy.
MLB.com: Is there one guy among that group of offensive players coming back from injuries who, while they're all key to making the lineup work, is a guy you see as the most important piece to have back at full strength?
Gibbons: Well, for an offense to work, you need them all. They're not all going to be on every night together. They're all going to go through their lulls or their slumps. You just need the other guys to pick them up. The team's that win, they're strong one through nine. But Vernon, I've got a feeling he's going to have a big bounce-back year. He's definitely a key guy for us. He's been our guy here for a number of years. And Lyle, too. Lyle had that big year two years ago and he just wasn't the same last year with that injury. If we get those two going again, that'll make us a heck of a lot stronger.
MLB.com: In the American League, it's not a given anymore that the Wild Card will come out of the East. With that in mind, how important is it to get that offense back to where it was two years ago, when it was one of the best groups in the league?
Gibbons: That's the thing about the American League -- teams just hit. Even the teams that struggle with the pitching, they hit. There's going to be some nights where you're not going to have low-scoring games and you're going to have to slug it out. What that will do is to allow some breathing room for our pitching staff. One thing about last year, it sure felt like almost every game was a nail-biter. They were tight until the end. There's a lot to be gained from that, learning how to play those types of games, but that puts a lot of pressure on the pitching staff.
MLB.com: Still, you've got to like the chances of your pitching staff up against a lot of those tough American League lineups.
Gibbons: I love our pitching staff. We're strong from top to bottom. We're still a young group, but you know what? They've all cut their teeth and they've all had some success and they're all legitimate guys. When they do their thing, they all should be successful.
Jordan Bastian is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.