The Blue Jays have decided on former Rays bench coach Charlie Montoyo as the team’s 13th manager replacing John Gibbons, sources told The Star on Thursday afternoon, an appointment that was confirmed later in the day.
Montoyo, 53, is taking his first major-league managerial job. The contract is for three years plus a club option in 2022. He is an old-school baseball mind with an appreciation for analytics. After managing 16 seasons in the Rays’ minor-league system, the former utility infielder joined Tampa Bay’s major-league staff as third-base coach in 2015, then as bench coach in 2018, responsible for the Rays’ extensive defensive shifts.
Montoyo played a season with the Triple-A Ottawa Lynx in 1993 then was promoted for the month of September with the Expos, his only experience as a player in the majors. He attempted a second tour in Montreal in 1996, but realized that his playing time had passed him by.
Montoyo ostensibly began his coaching career when he was asked by the Expos at spring training of 1996 to go down to the lower levels of the minor-league system to work with some of the top young prospects. It was there that he met Vladimir Guerrero embarking on his meteoric rise to the majors. Montoyo sees him as the best minor-league prospect he has seen. Now he will be responsible for Vlad Guerrero, Jr. who is currently ranked as the top prospect in baseball. Full circle.
The history of major-league baseball is that when you replace a manager that it is usually someone with the opposite personality traits and skills. While Gibbons was a reluctant convert to the modern wave of analytics, Montoyo is a full-on born-again baseball manager, believing in the shift and in the opportunities to win that are presented by the concept of a pitching opener, rather than a rotation of 100-pitch starters, as pioneered by manager Kevin Cash and the Rays.
Montoyo said he understands the uniqueness of the Jays in major-league baseball, that they are representing an entire country and not just one city. He has experience as a coach for Team Puerto Rico in the World Baseball Classic.
Baseball has always been a copycat game and no longer are front offices reluctant to hire first-year managers, following the recent success of the Red Sox with Alex Cora, the Yankees with Aaron Boone, the Dodgers with Dave Roberts and the Rays with Cash. Montoyo becomes the third minority manager hired by the Jays in the 42 seasons of the franchise, following Cito Gaston (African-American) and Carlos Tosca (Cuban-American). Montoyo’s abaility to speak Spanish is a bonus, but was not considered a necessity for the rebuilding Jays.
It seems clear the Blue Jays had certain requirements as part of the interview process for a manager to replace the departed Gibbons. They were looking for a first-time MLB manager with a knowledge of and respect for analytics who had also spent time in a major-league dugout as a coach. The list was down to three.
Following a preliminary round of phone interviews conducted by Jays’ GM Ross Atkins, it came down to five in-person interviews over the past 14 days. That select group included Giants’ farm director David Bell, Rays’ coach Rocco Baldelli, Rays’ bench coach Charlie Montoyo, Astros’ bench coach Joe Espada and Cubs’ bench coach Brandon Hyde. With Bell deciding to head to the Reds and with the Twins deciding on Baldelli, that effectively left the Jays with three leading candidates.
There had been lively speculation for two months about other candidates, a list that included two-time Pacific Coast League manager-of-the-Year, Canadian baseball icon Stubby Clapp, former Indians and M’s manager Eric Wedge, currently Jays’ minor-league field coordinator, current Jays’ bench coach Demarlo Hale and the organization’s Double-A New Hampshire manager, John Schneider, who has been with the organization since 2006, working with many of the young players about to make the breakthrough to the majors with a rebuilding squad in 2019.
Espada, 43, was considered a Jays’ front-runner because of the similar path he had taken to Cora, a young Puerto Rican coach graduating from Astros’ bench coach to a major-league managerial position for his first posting. Espada had experience with the Yankees as a third-base coach and spent a season out of uniform in New York’s front office working with GM Brian Cashman.
Hyde, 45, was a strong and interesting candidate for the position, having spent five years as a Marlins’ minor-league player, five years as a minor-league manager, then rising to the majors as a coach with the Marlins and the Cubs, spending the past four years with Joe Maddon.
The Jays coaching staff under John Gibbons all are signed through the 2019 season, but it is expected that at least 2-3 of them will choose to accept jobs elsewhere. Gibbons staff included Hale, pitching coach Pete Walker, hitting coach Brook Jacoby, third-base coach Luis Rivera, first-base coach Tim Leiper, bullpen coach Dane Johnson and quality control coach Mike Mordecai.
Richard Griffin is a sports columnist based in Toronto. Follow him on Twitter: @rgriffinstar