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Photo Credit: Nick Turchiaro-USA Today Sports

Atkins Speaks!: Few Surprises In Jays GM’s End-of-Season Press Conference

José Bautista won’t be back with the Blue Jays in 2018. The club is very open to talking extension with Josh Donalson. It’s not likely that Vladimir Guerrero Jr. makes his big league debut in 2018, but the Jays won’t rule it out. Depth is important.

Stop me if you’ve either heard all this stuff before, or if you could have completely guessed it hours, if not days, if not weeks before Ross Atkins sat down for his 2017 post-mortem press conference, which took place at Rogers Centre here on Tuesday afternoon!

None of this is to say that there was nothing to be gleaned from what Atkins said as he met the media, it’s just that if you’ve been paying attention it hasn’t exactly been difficult to get a handle on where Atkins’ front office is at. Still, I feel duty bound to run through some of the highlights regardless. And then we’ll get down to parsing out what I really thought was the interesting stuff. Which… I think there was some… wasn’t there?

Rather than bother with the notes I furiously typed out during Atkins’ live stream, what say I just lazily copy-and-paste some other peoples’ tweets, eh? Eh!

* * *

Alrighty, so what have we learned? Anything?

  • The Bautista thing — that he’s already been told that his option for next season won’t be exercised by the club — is news, but hardly unexpected. (He later added, referring to last Sunday’s send-off, “That will not be the last celebration of José Bautista.” Damn straight.)
  • I’ve been asked a few times this season about the potential that John Gibbons might lose his job, but it’s never really felt like that was going to happen — and I guess this confirms it. I think the front office really does value Gibbons, even though he isn’t necessarily “their guy.” Plus, he remains a handy layer of cover for them, too. Maybe next year, if things go sideways again, this will be a real question.
  • Adding one impact arm and one impact position player? Sure. Giddy up. Though, I must admit, I’m a little surprised that Atkins would be quite that specific, given how well last year’s talk of getting younger and more athletic went. *COUGH*.
  • Yes, Vlad is very good.
  • The “gloriously non-specific” stuff about communication is kinda interesting, and John had a few more tweets on the subject, noting that Atkins said he felt he let down guys like Devon Travis and Aaron Sanchez with the way some of their medical things were communicated — while adding that he would make the same decisions over again, with respect to the procedures the club recommended those guys have. Sounds like what were frustrating years for those two key players were maybe made a little more frustrating, unnecessarily, by the way the club approached their situations? I dunno. If they’re admitting it, I guess that’s good.
  • Finding a piece to fit in behind Tulo and Travis will, indeed, be vital this winter.
  • Smoak being banged up at the end is a relief — but probably not unexpected. Yes, his numbers took a hit in the second half, but it would have been much more concerning if he’d reverted back to the high strikeout guy we’d seen his first few years here. He didn’t — he just wasn’t quite hitting the ball as well as in the first half, and the fact that he was playing through injuries is as good an explanation for that as you’ll get, I think.
  • They really don’t seem inclined to trade Donaldson.
  • Teoscar gets some praise, but nothing close to a guarantee of a job — which I think is completely expected.
  • The Jays like Anthony Alford quite a bit!

Pretty basic stuff, I think. It’s… pretty much where the club is at.

So, OK. Now here are a few more nuggets that didn’t make it into those tweets:

  • Atkins emphasized that it’s not just the front office that is doubling down on this “trying to contend” thing, it’s the players, too. “We have a group that believes we can contend next year. We’re going to do everything we can to complement that core.”
  • Later, though, when asked about where he thinks he has a surplus he can trade from, he mentioned the minor league system, but added his usual caveat — noting that trading away from the minor league system is a thing a team would do when it means putting themselves in position to win a world series, not merely to just become a contender. So… don’t expect massive trades from the farm this winter — which, unless you’re hopelessly panicky about this front office, I’m sure you didn’t anyway.
  • “We are optimistic that he will return to be a starting pitcher,” is what Atkins said about Aaron Sanchez, which… holy shit, was this ever in doubt??? Having to be told the club is optimistic is maybe not quite as reassuring as it sounds. (I’m sure he’ll be fine.)
  • Interesting stuff about the club getting off to bad starts in April, which Atkins suggests could be combated with a different approach in the spring. “We need to challenge ourselves to see that as an opportunity to create more team work — two words — and team fundamental works and working as a unit more frequently,” he explained, rather than relying too much on individualized schedules for each veteran player. Sure, OK, give it a shot.
  • Regarding the minor league system beyond Guerrero and Bichette, he said, “We’re looking at a group of 30 to 40 players that have a chance to make a significant impact” at the big league level at some point. “When we did that two years ago it was difficult to get past 15 with names that we were excited about.” So… that’s good!
  • Lastly, perhaps most interesting of all, to me, were the things Atkins said about trades, and, specifically, about potentially moving pieces from the big league roster in order to get better in places of greater need. He noted that he thinks the club has a surplus in terms of pitching — particularly, I suspect (if he didn’t say so outright), in the bullpen — as well as one that’s coming in the outfield and in the minors. Opportunities arise, he said, when other teams value your pieces differently than you do, and vice versa. Maybe this is just because it’s what I kind of want to hear, but I couldn’t help but wonder if Kevin Pillar is the guy we’re ultimately talking about here. A Blue Jays team with Teoscar, Alford, and Pompey has options in centre, and Pillar certainly would have appeal to other teams. More appeal than to the Blue Jays? Depends on what they think of him, of course. But maybe we’ll find out!
  • Just Jeff

    To your last point, he could very well been talking about Pillar, but he could have been talking about Osuna too. I could see both guys having a lot of value to the right team. Although I would be more inclined to move Pillar than Osuna.

    The spring training stuff was interesting to me, if only because this team has gotten off to a slow start the past couple of years and some have pointed to Gibby being somewhat hands-off with the veterans on this team and how they prepare for the season as a reason for that.

    The communication stuff was interesting too, if only for it’s vagueness.

  • HNZ

    I love Morales and Smoak (still unsure if this was a fluke year, too early to say he repeats it, too early to say he fails, but if you are a betting man…Saunders all over again, but who knows) but I think having 2 very physically limited/similar type of players as 1B/DH platoons isn’t smart. I would love to see 1 go if it can bring something back to the club that can help them now and resign Jose to be a 1B/DH + occasional only in dire need RF/3B option. Having either Morales/Smoak being taken out of a close game in the ending innings because they are slow as fuck is not ideal when their replacement is a defensive first player like Barney, Goins, whoever the fuck it is. IMO Jose is more likely to play longer than either of those 2 and I honestly think he has a bounce back year. He is way too athletic to just write him off because of this year. The other option would be get Morales in some better shape but my thinking is, even if he got skinny he’s just not that athletic anyways. I would still bet good money that Jose has a better year than either of them in 2018 no matter what team he is on. I think Jose would sign for less dollars and change positions, to end his career in Toronto rather than start in RF most days and play it out with other teams….but I could be wrong.

    • God love ya for really believing in Bautista, but holy shit! There is nothing he did this year that should make anyone think he’s going to pull out of this.

      In 2015 he ranked 15th in baseball by average exit velocity, 14th by barrels per plate appearance, and 13th by 95+ mph balls in play; this season those ranks sunk to 119th, 182nd, and 71st.

      The bat speed is down. He slashed .203/.308/.366. That’s the worst batting average among qualified hitters. OBP in the bottom 20. Slugging percentage ranks sixth worst — just ahead of Alcides Escobar, behind Dee Gordon and Freddy Galvis.

      Maybe there’s a “dead cat bounce” around the corner for him, but for a guy who is all bat, has no defensive utility, and turns 37 in a couple weeks, if that isn’t what “finished” looks like, I don’t know what is.

      • HNZ

        I only count 2017 as a down year when 2016 he was dealing with freak accidents. I remember you clearly being on that side of the argument as well but cool. I’ll give you 2017. 1 year good or bad doesn’t prove anything. You can’t pick and choose when you get to call a players year a fluke just to fit your argument. Smoak needs a repeat year to prove he’s a different player much like Saunders did. IMO odds are still more favourable that Jose has a better year than both.

        • Those numbers, and the underlying stuff from Statcast and in terms of contact rate and strikeouts, are hard to explain away as just a “fluke” or a “bad year.” That’s tangible erosion of crucial skills, and — at least the Statcast stuff — the kinds of things it’s hard to imagine bouncing back once they go. We don’t really have enough data on that stuff yet, I don’t think, to make that more than just an assumption, but if he was healthy and his average exit velo was 119th in baseball, compared to 15th two years ago, I’m pretty sure that’s some real shit, unfortunately. And it’s not even like he could improve by trading power for contact — like Smoak did this year — because at this point he’s capable of neither.

          If the underlying stuff looked like 2015, but the results were just poor, I’d be able to believe it was just bad luck or something. But when the results are backed up by Statcast telling us he isn’t getting the bat through the zone as quickly or hitting the ball as hard, when you’re talking about a 37-year-old who (as far as we know) was healthy all year, I think that says something.

          (Fun fact: Morales was hitting the ball as hard as ever this year, so I *do* believe there’s a decent chance he has more success in 2018, even if I’m not all that hopeful — because again with him contact is an issue).

      • Barry

        The only thing that would make me think Bautista could pull out of it would be if this year were explained by a season-long injury that he was playing through.

        On the other hand, if it were explained by a season-long injury, I’d have to seriously question how durable he can be going forward.

        In other words, the only thing that would make me think Bautista could pull out of it is a thing that makes me think Bautista won’t pull out of it.

        • TorontoBaseballGuy

          I -much like all or most Jays fans- would love for Jose’s 2017 to be the fluke. Unfortunately, as Stoeten points out, so much of the evidence suggests Jose was not unlucky, but actually slower and weaker. But as a fan I will hold out hope, as Barry suggested, that Jose was suffering through a year-long injury. Here’s my completely non-empirical evidence to support the claim.
          Bautista came into spring training and was hitting home runs at a reasonable rate (this is memory based, I couldn’t find spring training stats to back this up). I also recall Jose hitting well in the WBC, until he had to sit out of a game due to an injured back. I remember being worried at the time that the injury must have been significant, because the WBC meant a lot to Jose and it seemed unlikely he’d sit out a big game if he were a little banged up.

          I stopped worrying about the injury -and mostly forgot about it- when Jose came back ready to start the season. Is it possible, that he really was still injured, but wanted to play through it in a failed attempt to prove he wasn’t injury prone. The distinct difference in his numbers pre and post WBC injury certainly could suggest he never healed.

          A back injury could be expected to impact bat speed for anyone, especially a player with a swing as violent as Jose’s. With reduced bat speed, comes reduced exit velocity, which helps to explain the many balls that I thought he squared up, but only travelled to the warning track.

          So I’m holding out hope that it was a sore back that made Jose play so “old”. Frankly that could be more believable than the precipitous drop in his numbers coming as a result of age.

          Come on Jose, get healthy, get angry, and prove all of us wrong for one last glorious summer.

          • El Cabeza

            What reason for their be for José to not reveal he was playing through a back injury all season now that the season is over? What reason would Gibby have for playing him in nearly every game knowing he was struggling with his back?

        • HNZ

          But people have down years for MANY reasons. It’s weird that we judge baseball players or any athlete’s performance like we judge our cars LOL These guys are humans. People shit the bed at their work for lots of reasons and that doesn’t all of a sudden define your work ethic or capabilities for the rest of your life the way we do in baseball. It’s always laughable to me when people have that type of way of thinking of 1 bad moth, 1 bad year, is enough of a pattern for people to make their minds up. But the previous years of proven consistency of the type of player just goes out the window for them. The slightest hint of decline can just define the rest of a player career for fans because we need something to quantify our own unrational feelings LOL

    • El Cabeza

      O ye of massive faith!

      The slowest running RF in MLB is ‘too athletic’ not to have a bounceback year at 38? Can you think of any other MLB stars who suddenly became one of the (if not the) worst hitting regular players in the game after they turned 37 only to become an above average hitter again? (genuine, not rhetorical question; I can’t think of any off the top of my head, but would love to learn of an example or two)

  • Terry Mesmer

    I like the idea of trading Pillar while his reputation is still good. Also, he’s made noises that he learned from his ups and downs at the plate. I don’t believe him, but someone will, someone who thinks Pillar has plenty more upside.
    Throw in Carrera. Not a terrible player, but a contender should be able to do better than him.
    Maybe some National League team looking to lower their payroll while remaining respectable would move a starting pitcher in the last year or two of arbitration for Pillar, Zeke, Goins and cash.
    (Something like that scenario. I haven’t scoured rosters.)

  • IMW

    On the assumption that they won’t look at any “mega contract” FAs I think an offseason of Cain, Cobb and a trade for Profar, plus some moves around the margins for AAA depth would be a decent offseason.
    You know, that and extending Josh Donaldson!!!!

    • The Humungus

      If they could get Cain on a shorter deal (say 4 years), I’d say go for it. Moving him to left with Pillar in CF and Teoscar in RF would go a long way to improving the OF defense.

      I can’t imagine they’d go more than 4yrs on Cain, though. And that might rule him out. He’ll be 32 next season and he showed enough defensive decline last year that he’s absolutely the one that moves to left out of him and Pillar (if Pillar is still around).

  • allstev

    I hope Alford stays healthy, he’s really, really raw development wise, it’s amazing that he advanced so far, so quickly I think the skies the limit for him, I’m really hoping he gets a full season of reps.

  • breasteve

    Jays can’t get much younger in 2018, but could get more flexible by trading glove-first established players. I would totally agree to a Pillar trade if you could bundle him with Morales.