Atkins Speaks!: Ostensibly On Bautista, But Most Interestingly On Edward Rogers and Left Field

Ross Atkins
Photo Credit: Dan Hamilton-USA TODAY Sports

Blue Jays GM Ross Atkins met the media today, and while it was ostensibly to talk about José Bautista, it feels like that’s already been done to death. The public spin on how we got here just doesn’t interest me very much at this point.

But that doesn’t mean there wasn’t a whole lot to be mined from his comments today, especially on two subjects in particular: the ever-growing involvement of Edward Rogers in the Blue Jays’ day-to-day operations, and the mess that continues to be the club’s left field situation. (And, OK, there was a little Bautista stuff that actually was interesting that we’ll get to as well).

Let’s dive in!

i. On Edward Rogers…

We’ll start here because that’s where Ross rather emphatically started his presser today, thanking Edward Rogers by name for helping the deal come together, and speaking — nebulously — of his importance as a leader and a person genuinely involved with the club. Those whispers Jeff Blair said yesterday he’d been hearing are now full-blown legit. And as I said then, it can probably only be a good thing (as long as the baseball decisions are made by the baseball people alone, at least).

“I think just over time, as we’ve established a relationship, he’s become more and more involved,” Atkins later explained when asked to get more specific. “I’d rather not get into the specifics of exactly how he was involved, but it was really his leadership and desire to help was abundantly clear.”

Later, in a brief appearance on the Jeff Blair Show, he had this to say: 

“He and Mark have an incredible relationship that is going to continue to get better. And he’s been great with us. He’s been a leader, and he’s been involved. He cares. He’s a great person, and we’ve already — this organization — has benefited greatly.”

Shit, I’d be kissing the ring, too, if I’d just been given more funds to do my job with — which is certainly what seems to be the case.

There has been talk this winter about the Jays potentially heading toward a more full rebuild — talk that I’ve been as guilty of as anyone — but Atkins, for what little such public pronouncements are worth, dismissed the idea outright, specifically because of the heir’s involvement with the club.

“Thanks to Rogers Communications and thanks to Edward Rogers and his involvement, we don’t have to think about that. We don’t have to plan for a rebuild. But all 30 teams have to stay agile, and have to understand that we’re dealing with human beings, and these assets to organizations are human and change and evolve. I think what we’ve tried to do is become more flexible and agile, and to sustain championships is to build from within. That just doesn’t happen overnight. If we can continue to win while we build from within, and make trades like the one last year where we’re not giving up talent, but adding talent to our system; add Gurriel to our organization; have the draft that we had; put the resources into international; continue to go into free agency. You’re threading a needled. But we’re focused, because we’ve been given the support and leadership of Edward and Rogers Communications on doing that.”

Another aspect to this needle-threading may one day be dampening the effect of a meddlesome owner, and I think Atkins and Shapiro are going to have to be careful about all this. But given the way this team has mostly been run for the 15 years of Rogers Communications’ stewardship, I’ll take an engaged, personally invested owner, with theoretical potential for meddling down the road, in a heartbeat over the fucking automatons in the accounting department.

Still. It seems like a lot of lip service. Though, if Edward is the one pushing back against said automatons, and he has the clout to do so, maybe it’s not even enough…

ii. On left field…

Asked during the conference if the club’s plan for left field is simply a combination of Steve Pearce, Melvin Upton, and Ezequiel Carrera, Atkins simply responded, “Yeah, that’s correct.”

He quickly added that they “feel incredible about having Dalton Pompey and Darrell Ceciliani in that mix as well.”

It is hard to reconcile this with the idea that the Blue Jays want to be good, because that mix is bad.

Upton cannot play against right-handed pitching. He has a 77 wRC+ and a .281 on-base against right-handers over the last two seasons (547 plate appearances), and in the years before that he was awful against everyone, right-handed or left-handed.

Carrera, despite being a left-handed batter, cannot play against right-handers either. He also has a 77 wRC+ over that span (394 PA), and though his .312 OBP is better than Upton’s mark, it still’s still on the unplayable side of the spectrum. (And before anybody crows about Carrera’s solid 2016, please note that his marks in the split were 71 and .307, and despite our playoff memories, his second half produced a terrible .194/.243/.272 slash line. He is bad.)

Pearce could be the solution, but for two problems: his lack of durability and playing outfield on the Rogers Centre turf seems a bad mix, and he should be playing primarily at first base regardless because the alternative is playing Justin Smoak there. Smoak’s wRC+ against right-handers — the stronger of his two splits — is 102 for the last two seasons. It was 99 last season. And overall in the second half of 2016 he produced just a 75 mark. He is also bad. Pearce, meanwhile, despite being a right-handed hitter, has a 113 wRC+ in the split over the last two years, and his mark in 2016 was 118. He should be the club’s primary first baseman.

For now, though, this doesn’t seem like it will be the case. That leaves a big door open for Pompey, which is certainly not a bad thing. It just would be better, I think, if Pompey was the contingency plan for something a whole lot better than throwing way too many at-bats to Smoak and Carrera.

Perhaps there’s something about the defence that those two players bring that the Blue Jays love a whole lot more than the publicly available data would suggest — and I don’t doubt that that’s at least a part of their infatuation with Smoak (though I’d bet a bigger part, at this point, is that they signed him to that fucking extension). Atkins did say during the presser that “we’ve got to figure out a way to just win more games. As I said at the start of the offseason, there’s multiple ways to do that. And there’s the picturesque ways to do it, and there’s the ways with big names and household names, and sometimes it’s more run prevention, and sometimes it’s more run scoring. So, we’ll consider all of them.”

Are Carrera and Smoak simply less picturesque options with abilities to help a ballclub win games that it’s impossible for us to see? Uh… I’m pretty sure that’s a mighty stretch. The truth is, they’re bad, and this is a bad plan, and while it won’t exactly kill them, it shouldn’t be too difficult to get better.

That all said, Atkins wouldn’t rule additional moves, and he may simply be not tipping his hand here. If the club is playing hardball with agents or other teams, they’re better off acting like they think they’ve got a reasonable solution in left field, rather than a first baseman and a bunch of pieces that don’t really work.

“We’re not out on any front,” he said. “But we feel good about our offence and defence at this point, and see the clear need to add to our bullpen, see the clear need for a backup catcher — if there are upgrades, because we have those pieces within the organization, but if there are upgrades there. But, so, having said that, we’re not going to stop working. There may be a trade or there may be a free agent that still fits on the offensive side.”

Those players certainly are out there — an Angel Pagan, Brandon Moss, or even a small bet on Chris Coghlan could work. Trades could still work happen, too. Last winter’s market moved much more quickly than this one, and yet it was not too much earlier than this — early in the second week of January, to be precise — that the Jays and Nationals made their swap of Ben Revere and Drew Storen. And the Michael Saunders-Jay Bruce trade that fell apart didn’t happen until mid-February.

“If there’s a way to improve at, whether it be the other outfield position, or another creative way just to get an upgrade at one position, we are open to it. There are a lot of things that have almost happened this year that still could. But I think making sure that we add some depth to our bullpen, and potentially even to starting pitching, is something that we’re going to continue to work to do.”

Fair enough, I guess. It’s just… now I guess I have to cheer hard for Dalton Pompey to absolutely kill it this spring. Which… there certainly could be worse things to cheer for. And option with a little more certainty would just be better. (And I don’t mean the certainty that running Carrera and Smoak out there brings.)

iii. OK, OK. On Bautista…

Like I say, I’m not terribly interested in most of the Bautista stuff we heard today. There were, however, a couple notable statements from the GM…

On Bautista’s fielding…

Most likely we’ll see him in right field the bulk of our games. He had a shoulder injury in 2015 that impacted his ability to throw in ’16 — we actually spent some time with him this offseason and saw him working out, and seeing things that were extremely encouraging.

You’ve got to take that with a rather mighty grain of salt, given that it’s coming from the GM who just gave him $18 million, but giddy up if there’s even a kernel of truth to the idea that Bautista’s arm may get closer in 2017 to its pre-trying-to-throw-Delmon-Young-out-at-first-base self.

“It’s more likely that he has the 2015 season than it is that he has the 2016 season, because I think that was health related,” he added.

Love the idea. I’ll believe it when I see it, though.

On José’s desire to return…

This is kind of the stuff I’d prefer to have avoided, but Atkins did make it abundantly clear that Toronto is where Bautista wanted to play — and didn’t push too hard to make it sound like this is exactly what the Jays wanted all along, which is good, because we all know full well that it wasn’t.

“I don’t know exactly what deals he turned down,” he said. “I don’t know how much money he walked away from, but I would guess that he did.”

However it worked out, fuck yeah! It worked out!

iv. One Last Thing…

Asked to speak about some of the curveballs thrown in their direction this winter and the ever-fluid nature of the market, Atkins declined to get specific. He did offer one slight jab on the subject, though:

“You can’t predict what agents are expecting the market to be.”