Toronto Blue Jays general manager Ross Atkins and the rest of the front office haven’t exactly earned a sparkling reputation since taking over for Alex Anthopoulos in 2015.
Gone from the roster are former fan favourites like Jose Bautista, Edwin Encarnacion, Josh Donaldson, Kevin Pillar and Marcus Stroman. After two glorious playoff runs in 2015 and 2016, Toronto has watched October baseball from the couch for what will now be three consecutive seasons.
Things went from bad to worse at last week’s trade deadline, when fans and rival teams voiced their displeasure with the club’s return for a number of solid trade chips. In the wake of the criticism, Atkins made the rounds on Toronto radio stations Tuesday to explain why supporters should be excited about the future of the franchise, led by young standouts like Vladimir Guerrero Jr. and Bo Bichette.
“Ultimately we feel we’re at a point now where our young position players have transitioned, and we have several waves of very, very talented pitchers coming through our system that we couldn’t be more excited about,” Atkins said in an appearance on TSN 1050. “And we have arguably more flexibility than any team in baseball ahead of us.
“We’ll have a system that will provide us talent, a system that if need be we can trade away from. We’ll have financial flexibility, and we have an incredible process in place.
“The cohesiveness across our office, in our clubhouse, in our dugout, on the field, is very good, and that translates. That turns into wins, that turns into exciting environments and it’s not something that will be a flash. It’ll be something that lasts and fans are expecting year in and year out for time to come.”
Atkins went on to discuss a number of topics, so here are some of the highlights.
Why Toronto values Derek Fisher so highly
One of the more puzzling trades Atkins pulled off on deadline day was packaging Aaron Sanchez, Joe Biagini and prospect Cal Stevenson in exchange for Derek Fisher of the Houston Astros. Many felt Toronto gave up too much for Fisher, but Atkins was thrilled about the acquisition.
“It’s hard to find someone like Derek Fisher, so we are elated to have added him,” Atkins said on Sportsnet 590. “You take a guy who has an above-average run tool, projects from our scouts and defensive metrics to be an average centre-fielder, potentially plus on the corners, he’s going to be an effective baserunner because of the run tool, he has raw power, he has elite plate discipline. You piece all those things into one player, you don’t find that. That’s very difficult to find.”
Of course, Atkins would have preferred to give up less in the trade, but he was ultimately willing to meet Houston’s asking price.
“Had we been able to acquire Derek Fisher for less, we certainly would rather, but it became clear to us that that was not going to happen,” Atkins said. “They weren’t going to do a deal for less. It really comes down to us just valuing Derek Fisher. We are really, really excited about adding that level of talent.
“To us it’s not a complementary piece, it’s the potential of him being an everyday major-league player. The minor-league performance certainly suggests that he should be.”
Moving on from Blue Jays veterans
One of the narratives that pops up fairly regularly among fans is that Atkins and Co. wanted to clean out the old regime and put their own fingerprints on the roster. Atkins denied that idea, and claimed the immense turnover happened organically as players aged, not because of a preconceived plan.
“I can tell you with a lot of confidence that it was not our plan to move on,” Atkins said on TSN 1050. “Our plan was to see if we could continue to build around them after the success of 2015 and ’16 and we just didn’t have health on our side. We didn’t have the same 2016 years out of most of those guys.
“Because of that, they got to a point in their contracts where if we were to hypothetically aggressively extend half of them, two thirds of them, that potentially keeps us in the middle, decreases opportunity for some of our young players, and we’re extremely dependent on their future success… We didn’t execute on building winning teams around that core in ’17 and ’18 and now we’re at the point of giving opportunity to a young core we couldn’t be more excited about.”
Confidence of young core
Now that the new crop of cornerstone talent has arrived at the MLB level, we’re starting to see glimpses of what players like Guerrero Jr. and Bichette can do on a regular basis. Atkins is encouraged by the aura around the clubhouse, and the poise his squad is demonstrating.
“It’s a lot of fun to be around these guys, it really is incredible energy,” Atkins said on TSN 1050. “They’re feeding off one another and embracing the challenge. The amount of confidence from this young core and how cohesive they are is remarkable and it is an incredible burst of energy to be around and very fulfilling. Most importantly it’s very fulfilling for them.”
Internal competition in years to come
Once the novelty of being in the majors starts to wear off, the Blue Jays’ youngsters will need to find ways to stay motivated and continue to grow. Atkins believes his players have the makeup to challenge one another to keep improving.
“Our hope is that [Guerrero Jr. and Bichette] continue to pass the torch back and forth and feed off one another.” Atkins said on TSN 1050. “One week, one month, one year one of them is a little better than the other and they’re pushing one another, including our young outfielders, including Cavan Biggio, including our young catching. You can see that happening, they’re pushing one another and they’re pulling for one another, which is remarkable in this game, especially as young as they are.”
More Blue Jays coverage from Yahoo Sports