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The Blue Jays continued their descent into madness this week, committing
themselves to interim manager Cito Gaston for the 2009 season. This marks the
third time in six-plus seasons under general manager J.P. Ricciardi that the
Blue Jays have made a mid-season managerial change, then subsequently made the
interim manager the permanent one without going through a search to identify
the best candidate. While Gaston is different in type from Carlos Tosca and
John Gibbons-he wasn’t a member of the fired manager’s staff, and he has a
track record of success-the process by which he was deemed worthy is the same
diseased one that has helped make the Blue Jays one of the game’s most
disappointing franchises.

Consider that since the shortened 1995 season, just three franchises have
replaced their manager during the season on three
occasions
: the Reds, the Royals, and now the Blue Jays. Those teams have
combined for one post-season appearance in that time, none since ’95, and none
under a manager hired in that time. Repeatedly having to replace the manager
in the middle of the season is a sign that your organization has a significant
problem choosing its field leader, and may reflect problems in other areas of
management.

It goes beyond just replacing the manager. The organizations in question have
all repeatedly made the same mistake: falling in love with the new guy,
forgoing a full search, and electing to retain the interim into the next
season. The Reds did it with Jerry Narron and Dave Miley, with disastrous
results. The Royals, one of the worst-run franchises in sports during this
time frame, made this choice three times. Now the Jays, without a post-season
appearance since Joe Carter danced in ’93, without relevance for most of that
time, have again made the same mistake that they made in 2002 and 2004.

We can debate the importance of a field manager-the relative merits of
tactical savvy and interpersonal skill may never be calibrated perfectly-but
what we should be able to agree on is that the position deserves to be filled
with care. Managers are put in charge of $50 million or more worth of talent. They serve as the most visible management member in a business that generates $100 million or more in gross revenues. Depending on how you view it, they are the second- or third-highest ranking member of management in an organization.

So is it really enough to want to get rid of the guy you have, look around for
a convenient replacement, and then stick with that replacement? Shouldn’t the
process for hiring the person shouldering all that responsibility be more
involved than that? The issue isn’t whether Dave Miley or Buddy Bell or Cito
Gaston is the best person for a particular job. The issue is that the
organizations that hired them didn’t even ask that question, largely because they were on the payroll when the job opened up. They came, they saw, they
shrugged.

This isn’t a situation like the 2004 Astros or 2003 Marlins, where the team
had so much success in the wake of an in-season change that the manager earned
the right to keep the job. The Jays were 35-40 under Gibbons, in last place in
the AL East, 10 1/2 games out of first, and they’d outscored their opponents by nine runs (297-288). Under Gaston, the Jays are 24-17, in fourth place in the AL East, still 10 1/2 games out of first. They’ve outscored their opponents by 29 runs (201-172). That’s pretty close to a wash, and seems as much related to letting Adam Lind play as anything else.

The process is a mess, and on top of all the other processes that appear to be
awry in Toronto, it’s fair-no, it’s essential-to ask whether those processes will ever be straightened out under Ricciardi. The three managerial changes reflect a problem. Releasing Frank Thomas without a viable plan for life
without him-the Jays have used 10 other players, including David Eckstein, Kevin Mench, Robinzon Diaz, and Marco Scutaro at DH this year-reflects a problem. The handling of Lind through June of this season reflects a problem. Blocking John McDonald with David Eckstein reflects a problem.

At some point, all you really have is an organization living off the last few
drafts of the previous regime, in a competitive environment that requires
much, much more.

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