When the Blue Jays phoned and asked him to return to Toronto -- Gaston's home away from home -- as their manager, he knew it was time to return to the game he loved. After helping right Toronto's ship for the past three months, Gaston agreed to a two-year contract extension on Thursday, keeping him at the helm through 2010.
Gaston ended his 11-year hiatus from sitting in the manager's chair for the Blue Jays when he replaced former skipper John Gibbons on June 20. From the moment Gaston arrived, he was promised a year-end sit-down with general manager J.P. Ricciardi to discuss the manager's future.
Gaston hoped for a one-year deal -- Toronto offered him two.
"It's something that, from Day 1, J.P. and I talked about, coming back," Gaston said. "We were talking about coming back for one year, but two years is great. So, hopefully we can turn things around next year."
The 64-year-old Gaston has already started that process, guiding Toronto to a 48-36 record through his first 84 games back on the bench. The Blue Jays pulled within striking distance of the American League Wild Card in early September, though the team will miss out on the postseason for the 15th consecutive season.
The most obvious turnaround under Gaston has been on offense.
The Blue Jays have performed much better with runners in scoring position -- .282 under Gaston, compared to .231 earlier in the season -- and have shown an increase in power production. Gaston and hitting coach Gene Tenace, who also came on board in June, have stressed having a plan at the plate and preached a more aggressive approach.
"All the coaches are going to be invited back. ... We're very happy with all of them."
-- GM J.P. Ricciardi
"I think we've played the way I thought we would play under Cito," Ricciardi said. "That's been a big plus. Offensively, we've really been the club I thought we'd be. He's had a big influence on that. It may have simplified some things -- the approach."
None of this is to say Gaston still doesn't see room for improvement.
Gaston also served as Toronto's manager from 1989-97 and guided the club to consecutive World Series titles in 1992-93. If the Jays are to return to that stage, Gaston believes the club needs to find a player who can provide more thump in the heart of the lineup -- whether that's solved internally or over the offseason.
"I think we can get better," Gaston said. "I think the one thing we need to do is get back to where we've got guys hitting 20-25 home runs. That's what we need to do. If you don't manufacture runs, then you've got to hit home runs. So, that's what we need to get back to."
Gaston said the club could also benefit by finding a starter to add to the middle of its rotation, helping the cast of young arms expected to fill out the depleted staff year. A.J. Burnett can opt of his deal and become a free agent in the offseason, Dustin McGowan (right shoulder) is likely out until at least May and Shaun Marcum (right elbow) will be sidelined until 2010.
"There's a few guys out there hopefully that you can pick up," Gaston said. "Who knows? If there's some guys out there we can pick up, and we have the money to pick them up, I'm pretty sure J.P. will certainly try to get some of those guys for us."
There are more immediate matters for the Blue Jays to attend to as well. While Toronto unveiled Gaston's new contract -- save for the salary he's going to receive over the next two campaigns -- the club is still negotiating deals for its coaching staff. Both Gaston and Ricciardi said an announcement could come this weekend.
Gaston has noted that, if it were up to him, Tenace, bench coach Brian Butterfield, pitching coach Brad Arnsberg, third-base coach Nick Leyva, first-base coach Dwayne Murphy and bullpen coach Bruce Walton would all be back in 2009. Ricciardi noted that each of those coaches will also have the opportunity to receive two-year extensions.
"We're going to work on that hopefully through the weekend," Ricciardi said. "Hopefully, we'll finalize all that. All the coaches are going to be invited back. It's up to them. If they've got a situation where they don't want to be here, they can leave. But we're very happy with all of them."
Keeping Gaston and his coaches in the fold through 2010 would align their contracts with Ricciardi's deal. Ricciardi is signed for the next two seasons as well, though his job security has weakened with this year's fourth-place finish. Even so, Gaston is convinced that Ricciardi will be running the show again in '09.
"Yeah, I am," Gaston said. "I have not been told that, but just the way we're going about business -- I hope he comes back. I think we work pretty good together."
After all, it was Ricciardi who pulled Gaston out of his 11-year absence from the game.
"It was worth the wait to come back here," Gaston said with a smile. "I held out until they finally said, 'Hey, you can come back.'"