When the Toronto Blue Jays extended manager Charlie Montoyo’s contract through the end of 2023 in April, this is not the result they anticipated.
Amid a dreadful stretch where the club had won just two of its last 11 contests and whispers about clubhouse dynamics have swirled, the Blue Jays opted for a drastic change, announcing Wednesday they had fired Montoyo and replaced him with bench coach John Schneider.
“I truly wanted this to work with Charlie,” general manager Ross Atkins said at a press conference following the coaching change. “[I] wasn’t able to make that happen. I'm extremely disappointed where we are. I think we are better than how we have played.”
Atkins, who hired Montoyo in 2018, owned the club’s failure this season, calling the decision to fire Montoyo “a collective setback.”
“I’m the one that needs to be accountable for that,” Atkins said.
Atkins declined to elaborate on what exactly he felt the now ex-skipper did wrong, however the Jays GM expressed just how integral Montoyo’s influence will be on the club’s future success.
“When this team is winning, he is going to have been a huge part of that,” Atkins said of Montoyo. “And I will ensure that he knows that.”
So why fire the manager now? It’s a challenging question that deepens when you consider where the Blue Jays sit in the standings.
Before Wednesday’s game against the Philadelphia Phillies, Toronto was tied with the Seattle Mariners for the third and final AL wild-card spot. Technically that’s still a playoff position, but, through 88 games (46-42), the production hasn’t been consistent enough from a Blue Jays squad once favoured to dominate the American League.
There’s a hope that a new leader will boost clubhouse morale and improve the on-field product.
“We're just not playing to our potential,” Atkins said. “And I see some small opportunities to help that, and [firing Montoyo] was one of them. So I see a lot of individual things that are positive and some individual areas where we can improve.”
The Phillies, whom Toronto defeated 4-3 on Tuesday in Montoyo’s final game as manager, are a great example of an in-season manager change gone right. Philly is 24-13 since replacing manager Joe Girardi with Sarnia, Ont. native Rob Thompson.
“The game goes on,” Thompson, the Phillies former bench coach, said Tuesday. “Sometimes another voice, not even changing, just a different voice. Just maybe a tap on the shoulder to all the players, saying ‘We’ve got to get it going.’ Sometimes that helps.”
Part of the reason Toronto came to this decision is because Schneider, who will remain the manager for the rest of 2022, is a legitimate replacement. Personality-wise, the 42-year-old is a lot like Montoyo in his charisma and positivity, though he has a reputation for having a sharper tact.
As bench coach, Schneider had already significantly contributed to the Blue Jays’ pre-game preparation, as well as in-game decision-making. He says his managerial philosophies won’t differ from what we’ve seen already.
“My style probably won't change that much from a tactical standpoint,” Schneider said. “I like being aggressive. I like having fun. I always think that when the guys are comfortable, that's the best version of the player you're gonna get.”
Schneider’s well-established rapport with some of the Blue Jays’ core players also made him a perfect interim fit at this point in the season. He’s been a minor-league manager in the organization as far down as Class-A, which has allowed him to cross paths with Cavan Biggio, Vladimir Guerrero Jr., Bo Bichette, Danny Jansen, and others as he worked his way to the top.
“Knowing [the Jays players and coaches] and what makes them tick is something that I'm lucky enough to have,” Schneider said. “I've talked to these guys a little bit today, just briefly individually, it's going to be no different than what they're used to from me, albeit on a much bigger stage.”
With a clean slate from which to draw and a talented roster on the field in front of him, Schneider gets a very special opportunity. The Blue Jays also get a chance to hit a true reset button and escape this sub-.500 funk (32-34) they’ve been stuck in since May 1.
Toronto has seriously shaken things up. Now it’s time to find out if this bold move will pay off.
“This is a group that's talented and that wants to win,” Schneider said. “We're all familiar with one another. Us as a coaching staff, we’re all familiar with one another … I see a lot of opportunities for this team to do really, really well going forward.”
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