Ross Atkins Had A Pointless Press Conference, Part Two: On Jay Bruce

Jose Bautista
Photo Credit: Dan Hamilton/USA TODAY Sports

On Tuesday Ross Atkins held an utterly pointless press conference. Be sure to check out part one of my review, too!

Though ostensibly it was called to “discuss” the Jose Bautista situation following the slugger’s very public pronouncement on Monday about his unwillingness to negotiate after having told the Blue Jays how much it will take to keep him, what most pointless press conference in history would have been complete without the Jays’ GM also declining to comment on Monday night’s mass panic over his club possibly making a move for Cincinnati Reds outfielder Jay Bruce?

Hey, at least it was good GM-meets-the-media practice for Ross Atkins, which, let’s be honest, can’t exactly hurt.

The big thing about him declining to comment on any of the Bruce stuff, of course, is that we still have no idea what the hell the Jays were thinking pushing so hard for the guy. And his salary. And to give up a prospect to make it happen.

Yep, they were going to give up a prospect! Ken Rosenthal tweeted that the medicals on a Jays minor leaguer — and not Michael Saunders, as it was naturally assumed (though Bob Elliott has since said he keeps hearing that it was Saunders) — were what ultimately sunk the deal. Or at least this iteration of it.

The Jays have been trying to find a way to get Bruce for at least a few weeks now — I first heard a deal was close to completion about two weeks ago, but apparently that attempt also fell through — and though I said on Monday night that it was hard to really comment not knowing the financials or other players involved, we sure managed to say a lot!

And yet through it all, I don’t know that even the most ardent fans of Bruce — those who point out he is at least young enough, has enough power, and can have his two previous disastrous seasons attributed to a 2014 knee injury and a horrendous final two months of 2015 (he had a 122 wRC+ from a .260/.342/.493 line on August 1st, then hit .173/.214/.345 (41 wRC+) with a catastrophic .184 BABIP from there out), to not have totally lost hope in — were ready to accept the deal if it involved giving up a prospect. Especially if, as Jeff Blair suggested, Cincinnati wasn’t going to kick any money in, either.

The Jays were going to spend money! And a prospect! To upgrade from the uncertainty of Michael Saunders to the uncertainty of Jay Bruce!

It still seems crazy to me that the new front office feels that high on Bruce. They have had money and a willingness to deal from their depleted prospect stock to have used on literally anything else, and they think Bruce for Saunders was their best use of those resources???

True, he’s likely not as bad as the last two months of 2015 and the knee-injured 2014 have made him look, and unlike Saunders, if he had proved himself useful in the upcoming season he would have given them an option for 2017, and he’s going to at least stay on the field. But man… he’s been so bad!

At the end of the day, though, what this near miss gives us is, at the very least, more insight into how the philosophy of this front office differs from the one Alex Anthopoulos was running.

Though Anthopoulos put more of a premium on durability in the later years of his tenure, he was definitely more cavalier about it, and about depth in general, than it seems Atkins and Mark Shapiro. Case in point: Saunders himself, big bets on Josh Johnson and Jose Reyes, or starting the 2015 season with Aaron Sanchez and Dan Norris in the starting rotation, along with Miguel Castro and Dalton Pompey in key roles. If it wasn’t a full on Stars And Scrubs approach, it verged hard towards it.

With Shapiro and Atkins we’ve seen much more a focus on raising the floor rather than pushing for ceiling. That may be as much about the construction of the current roster as it is any deeply ingrained beliefs — there is plenty of top end talent here already, so filling out the margins and making sure they won’t be sunk by dreck makes sense — but the Bruce flirtation is more evidence to the contrary.

They really, really must be uncomfortable with the possibility of Saunders getting hurt and Pompey not being ready. I’ll take Bruce over Ezequiel Carrera, sure, but it’s not like Saunders never sees the field. Before his nine game 2015 he put in years of 93, 135, 139, 122, and 121 games, which is a pretty abysmal track record, but it’s not nothing. So maybe, knowing him better than anybody else, as they do, there’s something we’re not seeing — in the medicals or in what little performance they’ve seen — that makes them want to turn Saunders into anything they possibly can before his value (or his knee) turns to dust. Even if it’s just Jay Bruce.

But man… you had money to spend and this is what you want to do with it??!?

I mean, at least it wouldn’t have cost a draft pick like, say, Dexter Fowler, but still… really?

It would have been an interesting gamble, to say the least. And by the sounds of it, especially if it was the prospect and not Saunders whose medical nixed this one, it may still yet be. Gulp.