The Toronto Blue Jays struggled to produce offensively last season, utilizing their plus defense and pitching to secure a spot in the postseason before the bats let them down in the AL Wild Card Series. Considering the high expectations for the club heading into the 2023 season, to not secure a postseason win (a drought that extends back to 2016) was disappointing, to say the least.
What makes matters worse is how the Blue Jays lost in that series against the Twins, as starting pitcher José Berríos was dealing in Game 2 but was pulled in the fourth inning in favour of left-hander Yusei Kikuchi.
The gameplan was simple, in that Kikuchi would be brought in to face the Twins’ left-handed bats midway through the contest, but the move ultimately backfired, as Kikuchi gave up two runs (one earned on Berríos’s line) and the bats remained silent, sending the Blue Jays home early.
It was a move that was not only chastised by the Blue Jays fanbase but by fans across MLB, as Berríos watched his former Twins team advance to the next round of the postseason, a portrait that could hold its own in the Louvre.
That decision ultimately fell on manager John Schneider, who was in his first full season at the helm of the Jays after taking over for Charlie Montoyo during the 2022 campaign. The gameplan itself wasn’t Schneider’s decision alone, but the execution rested on his shoulders; he didn’t allow his starting pitcher to continue going in the game and pretty much ignored any “gut feelings” about a pitcher who was in the zone. While it may not have cost the Blue Jays the game (putting up zero runs was a bigger problem), it certainly didn’t sit well with some of the players in the clubhouse.
That move, combined with a string of awkward calls throughout the year (not pinch-running for Alejandro Kirk and seeing him get thrown out at home, for example), put Schneider on the hot seat entering the 2023-24 offseason, at least from the perspective of the fans. General manager Ross Atkins squashed those feelings early, confirming that Schneider would return in 2024 for the second season of his three-year deal he signed last winter.
Still, considering the Blue Jays’ playoff window is at its peak, it’s hard to feel that Schneider’s job is all that secure this upcoming season.
Should the Blue Jays find themselves struggling to compete in the AL East, it wouldn’t be surprising if the Jays make some changes to the coaching staff, especially since the club already employs Don Mattingly in a new offensive coordinator role. They are also bringing back DeMarlo Hale, who will serve as the associate manager on the squad.
Mattingly will now have more of a say in the dugout with Dave Hudgens, the former hitting strategist, re-assigned to the Dunedin complex. Adding Hale brings the former Jays bench coach back north of the border and adds another strong baseball mind to Schneider’s crew.
“As the season went on, I got really comfortable and didn’t think (the bench coach role) was all that time-consuming,” said Mattingly, speaking on the 2023 season (per Mike Wilner of the Toronto Star). “I think just managing 12 years puts you in a spot where you’re kind of managing all the time; it’s like you can’t help it. I got really comfortable with that and then just started tinkering with the hitting a little bit without trying to step on toes, and that’s kind of hard to do.”
Experience On the Blue Jays Coaching Staff
With a wealth of experience at Schneider’s disposal, it isn’t out of the question that either Mattingly or Hale could find themselves succeeding the current manager should expectations not be met in 2024. Both coaches have worked in a managerial role before and have been in baseball for a long time, with Mattingly even being considered for some vacant spots this winter.
That being said, it is fair to say that Schneider will get a real shot at managing the Blue Jays to start the 2024 season, and the club should be a playoff contender —as long as they pick up some help on the free agent market to replace departing players like Matt Chapman, Whit Merrifield, Kevin Kiermaier, and Brandon Belt. It also wouldn’t hurt to see some increased production from Vladimir Guerrero Jr., Daulton Varsho, and George Springer, who all saw a decrease in various offensive statistics this past year. Hopefully Mattingly will be able to help right the ship in his new role.
If things go well, Schneider could improve his reputation amongst the Blue Jays fanbase. If not, his time in Toronto could be nearing an end.
So, are coaching changes be on the horizon for the Blue Jays in 2024? Only time will tell.