Ross Atkins’ 2016 Postmortem: Part III, The Other Free Agents

Michael Saunders
Photo Credit: John E. Sokolowski-USA TODAY Sports

Blue Jays GM Ross Atkins spoke to approximately half of my Twitter timeline on Monday afternoon, offering his take on a wide-ranging number of issues that the Blue Jays will face this offseason and going forward.

Naturally, there was plenty that Atkins didn’t say — that he couldn’t or that it wouldn’t have been prudent to say — but that still leaves us with a whole lot to parse. So much, in fact, that instead of writing one giant, unwieldy post about everything he said, we’re going to break it down into sections. (Which is definitely not what I originally intended, but oh man, it’s about time I get posting some of this already!)

Up third: the other free agents.

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Club still working out whether to make a qualifying offer to Saunders * Picking up Jason Grilli’s option deemed a “no-brainer” * Club expects to look for a backup catcher, stressing leadership and ability to take a productive at-bat *

Michael Saunders feels to me like the kind of guy who will get picked up by a budget team looking for a relative bargain might still provide a bit of that first half magic. The fact that he is a left-handed bat and a corner outfielder fit the profile of what the Jays are looking for, but he’s not a particularly good outfielder — especially following the knee injury that cost him most of 2015 — and it sure is a bat that a club with championship designs would be wary of banking on. The Blue Jays have to think they can do better, unless they know something about his medicals that would explain his abysmal second half — .218/.299/.436 in August, then .149/.230/.224 in September. Even if so, that second half sunk a whole lot of Saunders’ value on the open market, and though Atkins was being polite about the club not having made a decision yet on whether to give him a qualifying offer, it is very difficult to believe that they’d see a $17-million investment there as being worthwhile or necessary.

Speaking of being polite, Atkins at some point refused to rule out the possibility of re-signing R.A. Dickey, which is totally adorable. Dickey was a good soldier, and Atkins was being nice, but that one’s very difficult to see — especially after Dickey himself lamented last year about playing in the American League, and preferring to be in the NL, where the pitcher feels a little more a part of the whole game. And no, I don’t think there’s a chance they sign him, or anybody else, in order to deal another pitcher for a bat.

And if they did, for some reason, bring back Dickey, that would quash the plans Atkins laid out for a backup catcher, in which he stressed leadership and the ability to take a productive at-bat — which one assumes means a good at bat that doesn’t end in a strikeout forty-fucking-percent of the time. Which isn’t to say that was Josh Thole’s problem this season, it was just a bit too much of a team-wide problem by the end.

As for Thole, he was derided much too harshly by a faction of Jays fans that seemed to grow frustrated with R.A. Dickey’s usefulness and its ability to deflect the criticisms of him that they so badly wanted to make. And also by a faction that simply did not, and would not, grasp how bad backup catchers actually are. He was indeed among the worst of the worst at the position, but the Jays were hardly the only good team to have this problem: Caleb Joseph in Baltimore, Ryan Hanigan in Boston, and Yan Gomes and Chris Gimenez in Cleveland were all just as bad, as was Dioner Navarro. There’s nothing worth sweating here, in other words. Which isn’t to say his contributions will be missed.

Meanwhile, Atkins stated the obvious and all-but-confirmed that the club would be picking up Jason Grilli’s bargain basement $3-million option for 2017. Because… obviously.

Oh, and Brett Cecil and Joaquin Benoit exist, it’s just… who knows?