A 3-9 start to July and a brief dip into a tie for the third and final wild card spot in the American League have led to the Blue Jays changing managers in the middle of a season for only the third time in franchise history.
Charlie Montoyo, hired to oversee the Jays’ transition from the Jose Bautista-Josh Donaldson era to the Vladimir Guerrero Jr.-Bo Bichette era, was fired Wednesday afternoon, the day after the Jays snapped a four-game losing streak with a 4-3 win over the Philadelphia Phillies to open their final homestand before the all-star break.
Given the timing, it’s reasonable to conclude that Montoyo would have been let go upon the return from the 1-6 road trip through Oakland and Seattle had he and the coaching staff not gone to attend a memorial service Monday for Julia Budzinski, the 17-year-old daughter of first base coach Mark Budzinski who was killed in a river tubing accident on July 2.
John Schneider, who had been on the staff as major league coach for three years before being promoted to bench coach this season, replaces Montoyo for the rest of this season. Schneider managed Blue Jays affiliates in Dunedin and New Hampshire to back-to-back championships in 2017 and 2018 before getting the call to the big club.
Montoyo is the third manager to be fired this season, joining the Phillies’ Joe Girardi and Joe Maddon of the Angels, and the common thread is that all three helmed teams that were expected to be championship contenders and have played well below expectations.
The major difference is that when Girardi was fired, the Phils were 22-29 and six games out of a playoff spot. When Maddon lost his job, the Halos had lost 12 games in a row and sat a game and a half out of the last wild card. The Blue Jays are currently 46-42 and hold the last of the three wild card spots in the American League, just a half-game ahead of hard-charging Seattle but also only a game and a half behind the Tampa Bay Rays, who hold the top wild card.
The move to fire Montoyo runs counter to the front office’s steadfast support of their now-former manager. It appeared as though Montoyo’s job was to implement the plans of the front office and maintain a positive atmosphere within the clubhouse far more than to be an X’s and O’s guy between the lines.
The 56-year-old held the team together last season in a year in which they didn’t play a true home game until July 30th, earning praise from several players who suggested Montoyo should be named American League manager of the year.
“He’s a great manager for us,” said Guerrero last September. “I think he should be manager of the year.”
Bichette praised the skipper at the time, as well, saying “I think that (Montoyo) allowing us to be ourselves every day, taking the pressure off of our circumstances outside of the field, where we’re living, being nomads, all that. I think he’s helped us a lot.”
Clearly things were not the same this season.
During the four-game sweep in Seattle that closed out last week’s road trip, some Jays’ pitchers were displeased with some of Montoyo’s (accurate) post-game comments in which he stated that it’s difficult to win games when the team wasn’t getting strong pitching.
Those comments came during a run where the Jays allowed four or more runs over the first five innings six times in a span of seven games.
In Tuesday’s win over the Phillies, Montoyo’s final game at the helm, Guerrero was demonstrative on the field, visibly frustrated at the Jays’ decision to challenge an out call at first base when he knew he had missed the bag.
After the game, Montoyo said that the decision to challenge comes from the Jays’ replay room and that the team was being rushed into a decision by the umpiring crew who did, in fact, deny the Phillies a replay review later in the game because they did not call for it within 20 seconds.
When Montoyo was hired, many saw him as the manager to guide the Jays through the transition but not necessarily to stick around once the team became a contender. He had great success developing young players as a manager in the Tampa Bay system for 19 seasons before spending four years in the majors with the Rays, first as third base coach then as Kevin Cash’s bench coach.
He guided the Jays through a 95-loss season in 2019, then took them to the expanded playoffs in the pandemic-shortened 2020 season. They fell one game short of returning to the post-season last year.
Schneider, who was drafted by the Jays in 2002, spent six years with them as a minor-league catcher and has coached or managed in the organization ever since, has won minor-league championships with players such as Guerrero, Bichette, Cavan Biggio, Danny Jansen, Lourdes Gurriel Jr., Jordan Romano and Santiago Espinal.
He inherits a team that is sitting in a playoff spot with 74 games remaining in the season and if he can help get them back on track, he’s got a chance to take a run at a title in the big leagues with a lot of the same guys.
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