There are no 'yes men' on Jays staff

KEN FIDLIN, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 11:03 AM ET

DUNEDIN — One of the side issues of Alex Anthopoulos’s exhaustive managerial search this past winter was the composition of the coaching staff.

Managers usually want to bring in their own people, people they’re comfortable with, sometimes friends. It’s a natural enough desire because so much of the manager’s continued employment rests with the quality of the staff who create the team’s atmosphere.

Some of the men Anthopoulos interviewed for the manager’s job wanted “to blow up the staff.” John Farrell wasn’t one of them.

“John wasn’t looking to hire his friends,” said Anthopoulos Saturday. “He wanted the most qualified guys. He did his homework on all these guys. He made a lot of determinations. That is very telling to me.”

Farrell wasn’t operating in a vacuum. Anthopoulos and his staff had input but the GM was mindful that Farrell, not Anthopoulos, was the one who would be down in the trenches with his coaching staff.

Farrell settled upon the retention of third base coach Brian Butterfield, pitching coach Bruce Walton and hitting coach Dwayne Murphy, supplementing them with bench coach Don Wakamatsu, first base coach Torey Lovullo, bullpen coach Pat Hentgen and major league coach Luis Rivera.

Even in the early days of spring training, you can see it is a very dynamic staff, heavy on instruction and teaching how to play the game the right way.

“This was not a typical job opening,” said Farrell, who was the Boston Red Sox pitching coach for four seasons before winning this managerial opportunity.

“Cito (Gaston) retired. It wasn’t a team coming off a 100-loss season where you wipe the slate clean and start over. There were very capable people here. I had the benefit of seeing it 18 times a year for four years.

“You saw individual progression. That was the case with Ricky (Romero), and Brandon (Morrow) and others. So Bruce Walton was an easy choice. In Dwayne (Murphy) you saw the offensive mentality change and the production increase. And when you talk about Brian Butterfield, whether it’s watching his early work prior to a game, or watching him at third base, he might be the best third base coach in the American League.

“Not wanting additional challenges coming into this for the first time and knowing that those relationships and the quality of teachers was already in place made keeping them a no-brainer.”

Lovullo and Farrell go way back and while his hiring may be construed as a “friendly” tap on the shoulder, Lovullo’s credentials speak for themselves. He is a former player, a highly-regarded minor-league manager who has often been touted for big-league managerial jobs over the last decade.

Wakamatsu has a huge reputation as a strategizer and instructor and has been immersed in working with Toronto’s excellent corps of young catchers. When he was dismissed last season as manager of the Seattle Mariners after only a year and a half on the job, it wasn’t because of his own failings, but because of a total failure of offence.

Rivera is another well-rounded baseball man, a former big-league infielder, a minor-league coach under then-farm director Farrell in Cleveland and most recently, manager of the New Hampshire Fisher Cats, Toronto’s double-A affiliate.

He is filling a newly-created position, as major league coach. He will not be in uniform during games but will be watching from the press box, in addition to on-field coaching in all situations but games.

Farrell couldn’t be more pleased with the effort, professionalism and chemistry that is being exhibited. Players have already taken notice of the vitality that the coaching staff exudes and are quietly approving.

“The important thing is to get the best people available,” Farrell said. “Some might say that hiring your friends is the quickest way to get fired. I want people around me who will challenge me; who won’t just say ‘yes’ for the sake of saying ‘yes.’

“Our meetings are free-flowing. There are no inhibitions when it comes to opinion.”

If a baseball team can be said to be a machine, then the coaching staff is the oil and the grease that keeps things running smoothly and without friction.

“They need to be a team as well,” said Anthopoulos. “They’re together eight months of the year. If they’re not on the same page, it spills out on the players. It’s all part of the culture that we’re trying to build.”


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