Gaston expects Halladay will leave Jays
With status cleared up, manager says players need to know he's accessible
Their house seemingly in order after a year of drifting, the Toronto Blue Jays can, at long last, shift their focus toward defining a clear philosophy and plan for the franchise's long-term future.
The fate of ace Roy Halladay is now the club's central issue after Cito Gaston's status as manager was settled, the coaching staff shuffled and the "interim" tag from president and CEO Paul Beeston removed.
Halladay's contract expires after the 2010 season and he's gone as a free agent afterwards if a winner isn't in place.
Gaston, who'll serve one more season in the dugout before moving upstairs as a front-office consultant on a four-year deal, knows that isn't likely to happen and it points to another attempt to trade the beloved right-hander.
"My gut feeling is Doc wants to be on a winning team and whether he comes back here next year, he's going to be gone the next year, I'm pretty sure of it," Gaston said on a conference call Saturday.
"He's probably looking at A.J. [Burnett of the New York Yankees] out there pitching and knowing that's where he'd like to be.
"It's not about money with Doc, it's about him being on a winning team, so I can't speak for Doc, but my gut feeling is if he's here next year with us, than he'll be leaving the next year. Hopefully if that's the case, that we can get something for him before he leaves."
Club may be rebuilding again
Gaston's words seem to hint that the team will be embarking on a rebuild, since if a winner was in place for 2011 the Blue Jays should in theory be able to retain Halladay.
Dealing him, as former GM J.P. Ricciardi tried to do in July, would certainly accelerate that process but it would certainly mean a couple of lean years in terms of wins and losses.
Still, neither the prospect of a Halladay-free 2010 nor the clubhouse discontent that bubbled over on the final weekend of a 75-87 season changed Gaston's determination to finish out the second and final year of his contract as manager.
The 65-year-old franchise icon said he never considered moving into the consultant job a year early, even after private player complaints about him became public.
And although he says he hasn't yet spoken to any of his players this off-season or heard the details of GM Alex Anthopoulos's fact-finding talks with the team, Gaston seemed to offer the clubhouse's unhappy corners an olive branch with talk of a willingness to compromise.
"Listen, I'm all for making things better and if there's some way I need to lean to make it better than I'm willing to do that," Gaston said. "If there's some way that I need to step up and say, 'Well I don't think that's a good idea,' then I'll step up and do that too."
Gaston's status was settled during Friday's coaching staff shuffle, a game of musical chairs that appears designed to give him, the front office and the players just enough to get by for one more year.
Gone are pitching coach Brad Arnsberg, who heads to Houston for the same job after butting heads with Gaston, and hitting coach Gene Tenace, Gaston's close friend who retires after never connecting with players.
Nick Leyva, another of Gaston's close friends, moves to bench coach in a swap of positions with Brian Butterfield, who heads back to third base.
Bruce Walton moves from the bullpen to take over from Arnsberg, while Rick Langford gets promoted to the bullpen after serving as a roving pitching coach. And Dwayne Murphy replaces Tenace, while Omar Malave gets promoted to first base coach from manager of single-A Dunedin.
The changes are expected to vastly improve the communication within the coaching staff — a big part of the problem last year — and between players and manager, although Gaston believes the best things for players to do is to speak with him directly.
"If you got a complaint, come in and sit down and talk to me about it. I'll listen and we'll try to work it out and try to get the right thing done," he said.
"I don't like my coaches coming back and telling on players. I think what they should do is tell the players, 'Cito's office is always open. Go in and talk to him and see if you can't work it out.'"
Spring meeting planned
Players complained privately at the end of the season about Gaston's "constant negativity," poor communication, old-school approach and hands-off, in-game decision-making.
Centre-fielder Vernon Wells would later say he hasn't seen clubhouse problems so bad in his career while catcher Rod Barajas said little issues were left to fester and become bigger problems.
Gaston said he'll have a meeting during spring training telling players he wants to have open lines of communication.
"I'm going to tell them, 'Hey come in and talk to me, don't be afraid,"' Gaston said. "I will certainly have a meeting and tell these guys that my door is always open, come in, talk to me. It doesn't matter when, just come in and do it and maybe I can explain why we're doing this or why we're doing that.
"I'm probably going to have it my first day there and then we'll have it again once we cut down to 25 guys."