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Winter Meetings Monday: Atkins (Finally) Speaks!

On the day that the New York Yankees unveiled Giancarlo Stanton, there sure wasn’t a lot to talk about when it came to the Blue Jays. The biggest news involving the club was that GM Ross Atkins held a scrum with reporters and… said a bunch of stuff we’ve mostly heard before.

Mike Wilner did a great job of scooping all of Atkins’ comments up and tweeting them out into the world, so let’s go through his tweets and take a closer look:

On Josh Donaldson…

The Jays very clearly don’t want to talk about the specifics of negotiations at all. Which I suppose I get. The thing is, though, talking about getting “better” — which the Jays continue to do on this topic — is a pretty poor way to skirt the issue. Better in 2018 and better in 2019 and beyond can mean very different things on this one, obviously, so… we’re not really getting anything here. Not that you’d expect otherwise at this point. And it’s not like reporters wouldn’t ask. So… here we go.

The obvious way to get better in both the now and the future, of course, would be to re-sign Donaldson — especially if you can shave some money off of this year’s budget by having his first year salary come in below the $20.7 million he’s projected to make through arbitration. Donaldson should be receptive to a fair offer, given that he ought to have legitimate concerns about hitting free agency next winter heading into his age 33 season and clearly behind Manny Machado as the most desirable third baseman on the market. And if there was ever a time, and a player, where ownership might want to get involved and make an exception to allow extra budget dollars, perhaps this is the one. A Donaldson extension would be a huge win for the team, the front office, the brand, Sportsnet, everybody.

It might not make the most sense to the front office right now, but perhaps — maybe like the José Bautista situation last winter? — ownership can create conditions where it does. I hate the thought of ownership meddling, but for fuck sakes, make it happen!

On the Winter Meetings…

Gregor Chisholm adds another quote that makes it sound like deals really are afoot — almost…

Clearly they’re going to do something at some point. There’s really not much else to say about that.

On Starting Pitching….

OK. Sure.

I mean, yeah. I don’t know. The Jays have some pitchers! They could use another good pitcher, though. Maybe they’ll trade for one? Uhhh… alright!

The Biagini thing is, perhaps, interesting, though, I guess. I think there’s reason to like Biagini as a starter — mostly the repertoire — but it sure didn’t work so well in 2017. And as much as Atkins makes it sound like he’s very comfortable with him being in the rotation, that’s not the vibe I got last week, when Steve Buffery of the Toronto Sun wrote this about Atkins’ comments at the luncheon for the Toronto chapter of the BBWAA:

“If he were to come (to spring training) in good shape and looking like he spent the off-season focussed on being a starting pitcher, we could start the year with five solid major-league starters,” said Atkins, who was asked specifically what Biagini would be required to do in the off-season.

“It was more just about his approach to starting pitching and what that means physically, fundamentally, mentally. We have given him some clear goals for this off-season and if he meets them, he’s going to be in a great position to earn that spot.”

Judging by these comments, there’s certainly a chance Biagini could come to camp and not look the part. Right?

I guess I’d have a hard time believing that the Jays would look to trade Joe, given that they’ve been so concerned for the last two years about building rotation depth. But with the names they’ve got slated for Buffalo, and the fact that Biagini — hard-throwing, can pitch in relief, rotation option, cheap, controllable through 2022 — could certainly have value to other clubs. And if he isn’t one of those guys the Jays have identified as having the ability to “haul 200,” maybe that’s a path they choose to go down.

I’m not sayin’, I’m just sayin’.

On the Infield…

Having those infielders in the outfield makes sense — but really only if it’s as part of some kind of committee in left (or right, for those who have the arm to play there). They need one proper, everyday outfielder, I am very sure. But the other thing about this approach is that it really does give them a surplus of outfielders. If left can be covered by Carrera, Pearce, Diaz, Ngoepe, Gurriel, that still leaves Pillar, Hernández, Alford, Pompey, Smith, plus that very necessary other body for the other two spots.

They can do something with that. They obviously won’t want to shed too much depth, but it’s not difficult to see how an outfielder and a reliever could net them the infielder or starter that they seek, or that they might even be able to find multi-team deals that move out multiple pieces, including outfielders, and bring back even better outfielders. Fingers crossed, at least.

Hey, and here’s something!

Some level of a guarantee? Uh… I hope (and assume) that doesn’t mean a big league contract! But sure, find a place in the organization for Goins if you want to. He’s obviously liked.

On the AL East…

Fuckin’ eh!

Fucking ennnhhhh. I don’t know about you, but I sure as hell could see what it’s like playing in the Central.

But here’s the thing about all this:

FanGraphs’ Depth Charts page for the Yankees now include Giancarlo Stanton and those fuckers’ updated WAR projection. Right now the projected standings they have New York at 46.8 WAR and Boston at 43.6. The only other AL teams in that bracket are Cleveland at 45.3 and Houston at 50.6. Behind the Yankees are the Angels at 35.3 WAR (not including Shohei Otani), the Blue Jays at 34.5, the Twins at 33.7, and then the Mariners (including Dee Gordon) at 32.8.

Yes, swapping Starlin Castro for Giancarlo added four wins to the Yankees’ projection and makes it that much harder to see one of the teams ahead of the Jays fall back to the pack. And sure, Ohtani going to the Angels doesn’t help the Jays’ Wild Card pursuit. But I just don’t know how you can look at that and think the whole season is futile. Quit pining for the teardown!

On Aaron Sanchez…

That’s good news on Sanchez — but obviously will be better news when he starts really letting loose and puts the damn blister thing behind him. Fingers crossed.

Remember: if just Sanchez, Donaldson, and Bautista had simply repeated their 2016 seasons (3.8, 7.6, and 1.4 WAR per FanGraphs, 4.9, 7.5, and 1.0 WAR per Baseball Reference) in 2017 (0.0, 5.0, and -0.5 WAR per FG, and 0.0, 4.8, and -1.7 WAR per BR) the team would have been eight to ten wins better, and right in the thick of the Wild Card race.

The team isn’t in nearly as bad shape as people think!

And On Vladimir Guerrero Jr….

Perhaps an interesting comment there on young Vlad, who got his first taste of failure recently in the Dominican Winter League, where he slashed just .211/.276/.278 over 90 plate appearances. I have no idea, but I’m comfortable attributing that to his being a bit worn out from all the baseball he played this year. Atkins, clearly, doesn’t seem terribly concerned.

    • Nice Guy Eddie

      How do you know that Guerriel will barely hit enough got be a backup infielder? He had a .967 OPS as a kid in Cuba, and his older brother has played both infield and outfield for the Astros. They seemed to do pretty well. How do you know he will barely hit?

      • Stolen Prayers

        Brent Gretzky’s brother was amongst the greatest hockey players to ever live. How was his NHL career?

        I have no idea if Gurriel will hit. I do know he had a sub .500 FIVE HUNDRED OPS in high-A and a ~.650 in AA last year. He’s played 40 games ever in the OF. I’m not penciling him into the lineup just yet.

        • Nice Guy Eddie

          I agree you do’n’t know whether Guerriel will hit. You said though that he can barely hit enough to be a reserve infielder. I also don’t know why you compare him to Gretzky’s brother.

          • Stolen Prayers

            You’re the one suggesting that Lourdes’ older brother hitting well somehow means he (ie. Lourdes) will as well.

            Given his poor numbers in the minors this season I don’t see him making an impact at MLB level, at least this coming season.

        • andrey_chuck

          The thing to remember with Gurriel is that he and his brother did not play baseball for more than a year while defecting from Cuba and going through the paperwork process to become free agents. It took his older brother 6 months+ before he really started contributing in Houston.

          Lourdes started this year at A ball and did poorly. He was promoted to AA anyway and improved. Then he went to the Arizona Fall League and did even better. It seems less about the level he is at and more about getting back into playing shape.

          If he does well at AAA he could be an option by midseason.

  • AD

    I just dont like Atkins, I prefer AA. He just seemed much more genuine in his comments. Atkins is a pure corporate bullshitter.

    What i really want from the winter meetings ( yes if jays are actually going for it in 2018) is a pillar trade for a good reliever( let alford
    Play centre-cant be worse hitter) and a trade for mccutchen( makes a lot of sense for the jays with his contract situation).

    • GrumblePup

      I feel like you don’t need to include “Trade Pillar” in any more of your comments. We get it. You can probably just make whatever other comment you want to make, and we’ll just add the “and trade Pillar” bit ourselves. It’ll save you from typing more than you need to. Plus, you won’t seem so repetitive.

      • AD

        I don’t hate the guy personally, but hes an awful, awful hitter. I can’t count how many times he ruined a jays rally by swinging at garbage or just getting himself out. Just think its a spot the jays really need to upgrade. Hes a 4th OFer at best on good teams.

          • AD

            Worst Cfer in the AL East we can agree on, yes? And I will say hes comfortably in the bottom third of the league. And thats what matters, see, because jays are competing against teams in the East with really deep lineups. And the jays have holes in RF, LF, SS already (sorry Tulo but he wasnt even league avg last year). I say take a chance with Alford/Pompey in centre and invest $ in improving the corners. If you can get a good reliever or even 5th starter for Pillar, take that and run.

          • AD

            Better than Adam Jones? In what world exactly? Jones was 80 points higher in OPS, hits for much more power. JBJ is closer to Pillar offensively but hes still a bit better due to a higher OBP. Pillar’s D dropped off last year and the jays need offense more than they need his D. Im sure Pompey/Alford can be fine on d and have more upside with the bat than Pillar.

          • AD

            WAR is not the be all and end all, my friend. Pillar’s WAR is completely based on his elite d (2015-2016) the and the last season which was just “good”. If you take offense into account, give me jones or JBJ seven days a week and twice on sundays over Pillar. Do you really think BOS or BAL would trade JBJ or Jones straight up for Pillar? You would be laughed off the phone. Better yet, how many teams would trade their current CFer for Pillar straight up? No more than 3-5 at absolute best and I’m struggling with those.

          • GrumblePup

            AD, WAR may not be “the be all and end all” of anything, but I think you’re confused about how you’re using it.

            Pillar has a higher WAR, which means he has provided more wins to his team than Adam Jones has.
            “Pillar’s WAR come entirely from his D. If you take offence into account, give me Jones seven days a week”. That’s the thing though… WAR already takes offence into account.
            It doesn’t matter if those wins come by providing defense or offence, the higher number is the better number. You clearly don’t value defense as highly as you value offence, and that’s fine. But just because you don’t think defense is as important, that doesn’t mean that Pillar all of a sudden hasn’t contributed anything to the team.

            Pillar’s WAR numbers have been trending in the wrong direction ever since 2015, but so have Adam Jones. And even despite the regression, Pillar still provides more value to the Jays than Jones has to the Orioles.

            So uh… what are you talking about?

      • Stolen Prayers

        I think I’d rather have Pillar overJones or Ellsbury at this point, particularly when considering contracts. While Pillar is not great, the bar for hitting as a CF isn’t that high. Hell, Billy Hamilton gets 600 PAs a year and he basically hits like a catcher.

    • Will Murray

      I don’t begrudge any GM for spin or dancing around questions, so Atkins can answer how he wants. How the team does on the field matters a whole lot more than how he answered questions. That said, the idea that AA was some sort of open book is a stretch. He gave his fair share of 10 minute radio hits without saying much of anything.

      • El Cabeza

        AA was simply better at making it seem like he was saying something while saying nothing. Apparently that’s how AD rates his GMs, which falls in line with the absurdity of most of his opinions.

  • Bob Canuck

    Atkins: “Really hard to imagine making this organization better without Josh.”

    I may be reading too much into the wording but Atkins used “organization” instead of “team”. It would be very difficult to make the 2018 Blue Jays team better by trading Donaldson. However, one could imagine that the organization could be improved by trading Donaldson for top-end prospects. In this scenario, the 2018 team would be weaker but the organization would be in a better place for the future (assuming the prospects work out and the Blue Jays have no chance to sign Donaldson after the 2018 season). Is this a sign that the Blue Jays are more open to a Donaldson trade this off-season than previously thought?

    I am not making a prediction that Donaldson will be traded but merely pointing out Atkin’s interesting word choice.

    • Nice Guy Eddie

      I hadn’t notice the ‘organization vs. team’ phrasing, so interesting that was pointed out. John Lott wrote a column last night in which he states that the Jays should be open to a JD trade. I agree with him. I notice that Andrew didn’t even mention Tulo, the highest salary on the team, as everyone seems to have given up the ghost on him while still claiming the team can contend. If the Jays move Donaldson, I’d want to see a very strong return in young players.

      • Deener32

        I read it differently- The organization being better without Josh meaning that they would be best suited with Josh here for the long term as opposed to 1. No Josh Donaldson 2. The pieces they would get in a Josh Donaldson trade.

        I honestly think he gets signed to a long term extension…

  • Mike22

    Remember: if just Sanchez, Donaldson, and Bautista had simply repeated their 2016 seasons (3.8, 7.6, and 1.4 WAR per FanGraphs, 4.9, 7.5, and 1.0 WAR per Baseball Reference) in 2017 (0.0, 5.0, and -0.5 WAR per FG, and 0.0, 4.8, and -1.7 WAR per BR) the team would have been eight to ten wins better, and right in the thick of the Wild Card race.

    The team isn’t in nearly as bad shape as people think!

    Of course, there is equal reason to suspect that others players could regress badly (Smoak seems like an obvious example) as much as guys coming off poor seasons could return to greatness. The roster is dominated by 30+ age players, particularly as position players. I don’t see why its more likely to trend upwards than down. Do you honestly believe an 88+ win season is a, likely b, more likely than a 72 win season?

    I don’t think those of us who want to get peak value for the guys that we can and save some of the financial resources for future seasons (and not lock down commitments to more declining older players) are being irrational.

    • Flash McLennan

      Beautifully put.

      When I read Andrew’s take on extending Donaldson, it seems emotional, not rational. When Andrew analyzes 2017, he likes to talk what if vis a vis Donaldson, Bautista, and Sanchez, while ignoring that 2017 over 2016 Stroman and Smoak were (respectively) minor and major miracles.

      Andrew, I understand that it was way more fun doing what you do from August 2015 through October 2016. That window has closed. But that doesn’t mean the alternative is a return to 1995-2014. You state that often enough, so you seem to know it intellectually, but it feels to me that part of you fears another long drought. I’m sure I’ll get a “No” or “Be serious” or similar calm, well-argued rebuttal, but please take it in as one possibility.

      If there’s a good package for Donaldson, of controllable young talent, take it. If not, figure out if an extension can be had that is merely bad and not horrible in the age 36-38 years. And if neither, then fine, see what the standings are mid-July and decide the best use of the last couple of months of Josh, be it “Second WC anything can happen!!!!” or a deadline deal.

    • Kris

      Fangraph have the Jays pencil in at 83 wins right now and ZIP is about the same. Is that much of a jump to believe that management can find 4-5 extra wins in a few off-season moves? And that includes a decline with Smoak in the projection. But at the same I feel the system is undervaluing the rebound potential of Sanchez and Estrada. Sanchez has the potential to be a 4 win player (under 2 in fansgraph) and the projection systems have never liked Estrada’s soft contact skills. (his WAR is projected at 1.1 and with a bad 2017 it was 2.6) Those two players alone could be worth 3-4 games right there. And add in a possible Teoscar Hernandez breakout (2 wins?) this team has the potential to be a 87-88 win team without additions.

      The farm system is very important for long-term development but at the same time attendance/tv ratings are just as important. It has taken years to rebuild the fanbase and the Jays have seen the benefits with higher team payrolls, international signings for prospects and money into player development. Do we really want to re-start that process? And to add the fact next off-season there is a lot of talent on the free agent market and the Jays have a lot of money coming off the books.

      I think this team can continue to win and continue to rebuild the farm system. So unless a player is long-term asset avoid trading prospects. Add pieces to the team through the free agent market and if the Jays don’t win this season trade the free agents plus Pillar plus whoever you signed in the off-season at the deadline.

      • Jays of Thunder

        My main reason for optimism for 2018 has been the large improvement available at relatively low cost from raising the floor. Last year’s team had only 9.9 fWAR from batters, but that includes -5 fWAR from Goins, Barney, Salty, etc. A decent season from Diaz and better backup catching will go a long way.

        I also noticed the low Estrada projection. I’d also note that the arms they list for 2.2 fWAR from the bullpen produced 5.8 fWAR last year. Bound to be some people who regress, but it’s not outlandish to expect 2-3 WAR more from the ‘pen than the current projection.

      • Mike22

        This is again looking at only the upside. What you described, a major rebound for Sanchez and Estrada, a Teoscar significant breakout are upside projections (and I still have my doubts would get you to 88 wins). I think the 83 win is optimistic anyway (Especially given as Stoeten pointed out the unbalanced schedule). But Donaldson could easily get worse as much as he could rebound or miss a lot of time with injury. He’s going to be a 32 year old 3rd baseman. Russell Martin is going to be a 35 year old catcher, he could easily turn into a replacement or sub replacement player. Almost every position player on this team is either old or had a terrible season if not both. I don’t see why a projection of upside is so likely.

        In terms of the pitching, two of the pitchers your relying on including the one you want a bounce back from are going to be 35 and 34 respectively. They could easily fall off a map as they are likely to improve. Yes Sanchez could come back healthy, but he’s had a rather inconsistent career as a starter so its no lock he’s suddenly a Cy-Young level stud again.

        Could this team get to 87-88 wins and a playoff spot? Sure. What’s the likelihood that happens? Isn’t it far more likely they win between 70-83 games and miss the playoffs and some of their few assets with value are traded for less than what we could get now.

        The fan base was rebuild by winning and having a great team. It was not build through maintaining false hope and the idea that breaks would get us to 87 wins. That was what the Riccardi era was built on.

        Spending free agency dollars could hamstruck this team’s ability to spend in future seasons especially if ownership doesn’t see it as paying off. Pivoting for 1-2 seasons while the elite prospects get ready and picking up assets in the meantime seems like a far more prudent view.

        • Jays of Thunder

          Sure, I don’t disagree with anything that you’re saying. I don’t know if you’re replying to me, but in my comment I specifically mentioned optimism… Looking toward the best case scenario’s. It’s totally legitimate to look at the downside risk. My preference is still in to work to strengthen the team this off-season. A deadline selloff is still available if circumstances dictate.

        • Kris

          How can a 83 win projection from fansgraph’s projection system be optimistic anyway? They don’t really care if the Jays win or lose. And they account for possible age decline in their system. I think it is fair to use it as a base to build off. And most media experts think the Jays are low to mid 80s win range.

          Sanchez is 25 years old and he won the AL ERA title in 2016. It is a good bet that he will pitch more than 36IP in 2018 and it is a safe bet he will out pitch his WAR projection.

          FYI Happ was pretty good in 2017 so he really doesn’t need to bounce back. With Estrada the ratios are there for a comeback. He post a 2.6WAR last season just for eating IP and now his projection is 1.1? I don’t buy it. I have no problem saying a 2-4 win improvement over the fangraph projections

          Also I disagree on attendance, look at attendance numbers. In 2010 attendance was 1.4 million, this turn around didn’t happen over night. It took 7 years to build, you will see a similar patter in the TV ratings.

          The pen/rotation is strong and a few good moves to fix the lineup this team can win an wildcard spot.

          • Mike22

            1. I mean optimistic in terms of not agreeing with it, not in terms of bias. Sorry if I wasn’t clear. I think its underestimating the amount of risk of decline/injury with such an older roster (this team was really really bad last year also). But even if we accept the rationale behind it, I don’t get why it would feul optimism. The top 4 teams are projected at 97,93,91, 91. Then you have the Angels who are at 84 (without necessarily factoring in for Ohtani) in 5th. Then they have 5 teams (the Rays, Jays, Mariners, Twins, and Rangers) between 80-82 for 6-10th. Does this seems like an optimistic playoff scenario? Is it something that you want to double down and commit dollars/assets in an effort to contend with at the expense of 2019,2020 and beyond?

            2, Sanchez is projected for 1.7 WAR using fan graphs (arguably BR WAR is better but we are using fan graphs because its the projection system you are using). You say that is unreasonable basis on his 2016 result where he had a 3.8 WAR with 192 IP. But if you look at the last three years he has a 0.0 WAR, a 3.8 WAR and a 0.0 WAR. I’m not sure why your so comfortable to say he’s definitely going to beat the 1.7. He very well could, but there’s no “safe bet” here.

            3, My Happ point was a bit confused, but I was saying while Estrada might be good again, Happ might regress. They have him as a 2.6 WAR pitcher but he was 2.9 last year and is now 35. Is a sub 2 win season as likely as him being a 3-3.5 win pitcher. Estrada does seem low, but not by the 2-4 wins that your projecting.

            4, And again while your picking players who beat their projections I can pick several who are likely to go under them. They have Tulo at 2.3, Tulo is a 33 year old shortstop who was a replacement level player last year. His best season in the past 3 years is 2.9 and the projection is based on 460 plate appearances. I’ll take the under on both that number and the WAR. They have Russell Martin as a 2.7 WAR catcher. He will be 35 and is coming off 1.9 and 1.8 WR season. This projection seems at least a win too heavy.

            If Tulo and Martin under perform their projections, that likely wipes out any benefit from Estrada and Sanchez over performing them. They have Travis playing 108 games (he’s been under that the last 3 seasons).

            5, The attendance will either decline quickly if we are terrible or it will go through a slow but steady decline if we are mediocre. If you spend 20 million dollars in future payroll space, lose some draft picks and maybe even trade prospects, the playoff drought will only grow and the attendance will suffer in the long run.

            I tend to agree with the comment above that the fans (not necessarily counting Stoeten here as he is pretty clear headed) who reject a rebuild are generally scarred from 1994-2014 and are afraid that is what a rebuild will do. It might, but part of the reason we had a 21 year playoff doubt was because front offices decided to go with quick fixes and pray on the upside scenario rather than try to structurally fix the team with better drafting, prospects and player development.

        • Oakville Jays

          I don’t see how paying Josh Donaldson 20-25M per year for the next 5 years will destroy the franchise. MVP players don’t grow on trees. There is no guarantee that the prospects you get for Josh will help the team in the next 5 years.
          Does anyone remember what the Halladay prospects did for the Jays?

          • Nice Guy Eddie

            You also thought that Toronto should sign Bautista long term in 2016 at 30 million a year. To use your phrase, you” don’t see how paying (anyone) 20-25M per year for the next 5 years will destroy etc, etc…”

        • Kris

          The new rules are pain, but if the Jays sign a protect MLB free agent they would lose a 2nd round pick and some international bonus money. (correct me if I am wrong) And there are only 9 players who fall under this. It is something to balance but at the same the failure rate of a 2nd round pick is high so that free agent is a long-term asset I would think about it.

          • Nice Guy Eddie

            I don’t think the front office looks as lightly as the ‘what the hell, draft picks are a crapshoot’ stuff you read on Toronto internet. I think they expect a lot from themselves with their second round pick(s). The 2016 ones have a) been used in a trade for a 2016 mlb all star, and b), is Bo Bichette. I’m glad they didn’t give Bo’s pick away. Second, free agents are rarely a ‘long term asset’. Machado and Harper will be young, but most free agents are guys in their 30’s looking to sell their unproductive years at prices reflective of their earlier, productive years.

          • drunk man walking

            Historically the Indians under Shapiro are terrible at drafting players. The second round was mentioned. Since 2001, Kipnis is the only 2nd round pick of the Indians to put up more than 0 bWAR.
            Lindor and Chisenhall are the only first round picks to put up more bWAR for Cleveland than Goins did for the Jays.

          • Kris

            Mike – I was talking about free agents who will cost the Jays a draft pick. I believe there are 9 players, which is a small % of free agents. If the free agent is good then I have no problem giving up the Jays 2nd round pick. But it will case by case judgement.

            Eddie – according to a baseball America study 16% of 2nd round picks make it to the majors for min of 3 playing time, which is a low standard of success. Odds are the 2nd round pick will fail. Now I am not saying throw it away but I would exchange it for 3-4 Years of the right free agent. Now there are only 9 players who will cost a pick and other than the top guys (jays will not in the hunt) I am not sure any of them will be worth it.