(Reuters) - The Toronto Blue Jays will feature a slew of new players in 2013 but a familiar face steering them from the bench with John Gibbons returning as manager of the American League club.
Gibbons, who served as Blue Jays manager from August 2004 to June 2008 with a record of 305-305, replaces John Farrell, who left Toronto to manage the Boston Red Sox.
A former major league catcher with the New York Mets, Gibbons recently managed the Double-A San Antonio Missions following three seasons as bench coach for the Kansas City Royals.
"This came as a big surprise to me," Gibbons, 50, said at a news conference on Tuesday.
"It's really a thrill and an honor to be back here. I never would have guessed this would happen."
Toronto has undergone a rapid transformation this offseason, agreeing to a 12-player deal with the Miami Marlins that netted the Blue Jays high-profile players including shortstop Jose Reyes and starting pitchers Josh Johnson and Mark Buehrle.
The Blue Jays also signed free-agent outfielder Melky Cabrera, who missed the end of the 2012 season with the San Francisco Giants after being suspended 50 games for using a performance-enhancing substance.
General manager Alex Anthopoulos, who worked with Gibbons as a front-office assistant during his first managerial turn in Toronto, said he was confident about his choice to run a team expected to make a leap from last place to playoff contenders.
"Players love playing for him," Anthopoulos said. "They'd go through a wall for him.
"They respected him. He had the respect of the guys in the clubhouse, he never lost that. He connected incredibly well with the front office. From that standpoint, he was a perfect fit.
"I don't know that there's anybody better to manage a team. I've got more conviction in this hire than any transaction we've made here."
Reporting by Larry Fine in New York; Editing by Julian Linden