1993 Is a Long Time Ago

In Leadership by Brock Bourgase

The Toronto Blue Jays organization is certainly a wicked problem to which there is no clear solution. The problem has many symptoms: inconsistent performance, poor performance under pressure, and high rates of injury. Rumours suggest that some workout habits that leave a lot to be desired. On-field results appear to have impacted the balance sheet and the team suffers from low attendance and a budget where revenues hardly approach expenses.

This all stemmed of a leadership failure, endemic throughout the entire chain of command. Perhaps the best case scenario for the team was a .500 season, but the Blue Jays squandered an early lead and finished well below that mark. The expected win-loss statistic predicted an even better record (84-78). The unsatisfactory outcome was due to a flawed process.

Rogers Communication, the distant ownership, provided insufficient financial support. Paul Beeston, the interim president, was hampered by his recent arrival. J.P. Ricciardi, the arrogant General Manager, misallocated resources with little return and announced decisions through the media. He publically shopped the team’s best player, putting Roy Halladay in an impossible situation.

Dissent within the coaching staff seeped into the clubhouse. The team’s highest paid player did not contribute at a level to suit his salary and clean-up position in the batting order. Rumours suggest that his workout habits and mental training routine leave a lot to be desired. At the end of the season, certain individuals chose to pour gasoline on the fire and Ricciardi was dismissed.

What next?

The status quo is not a feasible option. Halladay would likely demand a trade although he has the dignity and professionalism to keep his opinion behind closed doors. The Blue Jays would be required to sign a corner outfielder or third baseman to provide more power, retain key everyday players such as Marco Scutaro and Rod Barajas, and strengthen the bullpen. The team would hope for the best from their many injured pitchers. Whether it’s a coach or a teammate, a trainer or a psychologist, someone would have to get through to Vernon Wells.

Starting from scratch would consume too many resources, in terms of time and money. Should the team trade Halladay for draft picks, buy out Vernon Wells, and let all of their free agents leave, it would take at least five years to become competitive. Blowing it all up would cost about a million dollars in salary for buy outs. Toronto fans have already become restless and such an action would stretch their patience beyond its limit.

There are plenty of alternatives in between those two extremes. The problem would continue to simmer and might boil over irrespective of any action plan but change is required. Changes made to the organization are as important as how new G.M. Alex Anthopoulos revamps the roster.

The owners and team president must provide clear direction. Beeston must state “This is who we are. This is what we hope to accomplish. Here is what we are willing to spend.” He needs to set standards for how team members should act and how they must support each other.

Anthopolous should model the club’s new standards. The front office must spend judiciously in the short-term and make long-term commitments. If it is possible to extend Halladay, it should be done. The pitcher would likely want to see other personnel moves, which is reasonable because the team has a marginal talent level that cannot compete in the American League East Division for an entire season. The team’s scouting staff has not been accurately assessing players and their weakness must be addressed. The Blue Jays experience too many injuries; there is a problem with their training techniques.

Perhaps most importantly, the coaching staff needs to work together. If there is a rift, it should be repaired because any dissention will spread to the team. Brad Arnsberg, the pitching coach, seems to be an expert in his field and should be retained. It is unacceptable for coaches to poison the locker room where they coach.

I think that Cito Gaston and all the coaches from the two World Series should re-evaluate their coaching styles. As the Coaches Association of Canada said, coach is a balance between looking inwards and looking forwards.

Perhaps coaches could play the percentages more, search for areas where the team can improve their technical skills, or hire a younger assistant coach to better relate with players. It has been reported that Cito Gaston has difficulty communicating with younger players. While it is true to today’s Blue Jays are not veteran professionals such as Dave Stewart and Paul Molitor, there have been positive results from Halladay’s elite example. It is not an impossible dream.

Gaston should touch base with players on a daily basis to ensure they remain motivated. Although rookies such as Travis Snider will make errors, they will learn when they play alongside veterans and become regular Major Leaguers. Aaron Hill and Adam Lind experienced breakthrough seasons but Gaston should work with them to determine their new goals and how they can raise their games to the next level. Somehow, he must turn Wells into an asset; no team would acquire the twenty-three million dollar player on waivers now.

Better players will make a difference but better leadership is a necessity.