Sports

MLB PLAYOFFS

Blue Jays confirm John Gibbons will be back next season

By Scott Mitchell, Toronto Sun

TORONTO - 

In the end, the Toronto Blue Jays’ World Series hopes were lost when the bats went quiet against Cleveland Indians pitching.

But as quiet as the campaign came to a close, the off-season on the horizon will be anything but.

So many questions in so many areas.

One thing, however, is now certain: John Gibbons will be back as Blue Jays manager in 2017, GM Ross Atkins and president Mark Shapiro both confirmed less than an hour after the Indians ousted the Jays in Game 5 of the ALCS by a 3-0 score at the Rogers Centre.

“The one thing that is certain is our desire for him to continue to lead this organization on the field and his desire is the same,” Atkins said outside the Jays’ clubhouse, after taking a stroll through the disappointment and shaking hands with every player in sight.

Gibbons has been a lighting rod throughout his second tenure as Blue Jays skipper, one that started in 2013.

When the Cleveland-imported team of Shapiro and Atkins formed in Toronto late last year, many expected them to, eventually, shift gears and install “their guy” at the on-field helm.

That won’t be happening in the near future, at least.

Gibbons impressed the front office with his people skills, his dedication, and his leadership.

“Humility, patience, and how he treats people,” Atkins said. “I think he always has winning at the forefront, but never at the expense or cost of someone’s career. His ability to balance that and not put himself and his own personal and individual success, his thought to put that at the back, is something that shines and, I think, players respect him because of it.”

Born in Great Falls, Mo., and raised in San Antonio, that Texas toughness is also something that endeared the brass to the 54-year-old manager, who has led the Jays to a 339-309 record over the last four seasons.

“I’ve talked repetitively about how impressed I’ve been with his toughness, his consistency and his leadership, especially through a season like this that was a grind in a lot of ways,” Shapiro said. “Really impressive.”

Two playoff berths in the past two years, the first of which broke a 22-season drought, likely helped a bit, too.

While it looks like the manager is a status quo situation, the roster is anything but.

A storyline from the day spring training opened in Dunedin eight months ago, stars Edwin Encarnacion and Jose Bautista could have played their last game in Blue Jays colours in Wednesday’s whimper.

Shapiro says he will be in contact with their respective agents once he has a payroll figure for 2017 and other end-of-season administrative work is complete.

“I don’t know what the timing will be,” Shapiro said when asked when he’ll touch base with the Encarnacion and Bautista camps. “We have work to do beyond that just on setting our payroll and setting off-season plans. I don’t know how we can begin to think about who the exact players are until we have that piece done, and we’ll have that done in the next few weeks.”

Could they both be back?

“Until we have a firm payroll number, I can’t answer that,” Shapiro said. “Anything’s possible. It’s a question to the exclusion of what else?”

It could be an off-season of change for this baseball club, but Shapiro maintains it won’t be an overhaul.

“Obviously, we’ve got some free agents we’ve gotta deal with, but there’s a tremendous pitching staff coming back and some great position players that make up a core of a team,” said Shapiro, noting that any sort of playoff run puts a franchise behind when it comes to the off-season. “We’ve gotta get some things done this off-season, we’ve gotta have a good off-season, but I don’t expect huge differences.

“We’re behind. We’ve got a lot of work to do. We’ve gotta have a really good off-season and put the great players on this team in a position to succeed again next year.”

The team that was celebrating a trip to the World Series on the opposite side of the Rogers Centre, one Shapiro helped build, was modelled in a drastically different way than the all-or-nothing, slug-it-out Blue Jays.

Oddly, it was the Indians out-homering the Jays 6-2 in the series, and then using a lights-out bullpen to shorten games, but Shapiro doesn’t see that the only model that will work in today’s baseball landscape.

“You need to build a championship team, it’s not about just individual players,” Shapiro said. “You build the best team possible.

“I think that team was built over a very long period of time in a very different way, forced by a different market,” Shapiro said. “In every situation, you need to build within the conditions and the circumstances that you have and the operating parameters. We should have much better ones here that should allow for a little more flexibility.”

As Shapiro answered a few questions about the future after the loss, he was making his way over to congratulate some old friends on the Cleveland side.

“As things settle, I will certainly be happy for them and pulling for them,” Shapiro said. “When you’re around the game long enough, you pull for people, not really teams.”

Shapiro did a good job hiding his own disappointment.

“The feeling right now is just bitterness,” he said.

GET WELL SOON, TRAVIS

For the second straight season, Devon Travis was forced to deal with ALCS dejection.

And for the second straight season, he couldn’t help out.

Thanks to an injury that developed from a bone bruise into a loose piece of cartilage in his right knee, Travis’ year came to a disappointing close when he was forced to pull himself from Game 1 in Cleveland.

An MRI the next day revealed the extent of the damage and officially ended the 25-year-old second baseman’s campaign.

Now, Travis says he’ll formulate a plan with doctors over the next couple of weeks, and undergo arthroscopic surgery on the knee at some point in the near future.

Unlike last year’s season-ending shoulder injury that came with a setback, Travis expects to be fully ready to go when spring training starts.