Ross Atkins held his end-of-season review on Tuesday and spoke on John Gibbons’ departure, the search for the next manager, the rebuild and a timeline for competition, and some of the team’s priorities in the off-season. Nothing is really all too shocking, but here’s some of the stuff of note…
Atkins: Ultimately, (Gibbons leaving) was a mutual decision, I know that there are stories out there that it wasn’t that way, but it was. #Bluejays— Mike Wilner (@Wilnerness590) October 2, 2018
One of the biggest topics of the afternoon was John Gibbons and the subsequent search for a new manager. Atkins ensures that the decision was mutual, though it’s been suggested that isn’t the case. I don’t know. I think this is going to be a point of contention for quite some time. I imagine the front office suggested to Gibby they wanted to move on, he’d get a send-off and paid vacation for a year, and Gibby just agreed with it seeing as it was inevitable. That said, did the two sides meet up and have a heart to heart and say “hey it’s best we both move on!” I doubt it.
Regardless, Atkins went into a little vague detail about the new manager search. He said they’re looking for somebody who is tough, smart, and passionate which, uh, duh. He also emphasized somebody who has strong communication skills and who can help keep everyone in the organization moving in the same direction. He went on to say that they’d ideally have somebody figured out in the next month or so, so that’s something to keep an eye on.
Atkins is glad #BlueJays will have a 40-man crunch, open to trades before that date. Likely candidates are guys that have less control. “We need to turn some of our position player depth into pitching.”— Laura Armstrong (@lauraarmy) October 2, 2018
To the surprise of nobody, it doesn’t seem the Jays are going to be very active in free agency this year. The priority for the Jays this winter is adding pitching depth and Atkins suggests that the team could deal from a position of strength, which is position players, in order to add to the organization’s pitching. Given the fact the team has a massive 40-man roster crunch coming up and could lose a player in the Rule 5 draft, we could very likely see a few guys packaged to acquire an arm.
Atkins: Certainly an openness to bringing back Happ and/or Estrada. Happ is off the charts in the example he sets for our players. His dynamic with Pete Walker has been huge for our organization. #Bluejays— Mike Wilner (@Wilnerness590) October 2, 2018
Speaking of free agency, here’s a place the Jays could be active. Atkins is open to bringing back J.A. Happ and/or Marco Estrada next season. This would be ideal, especially in the caae of the former, because there are literally zero sure things in Toronto’s projected rotation as of right now. Atkins said Happ enjoyed his time in Toronto which could impact his decision in free agency. It makes a lot of sense, so hopefully it Happ-ens.
Atkins: No comment on whether Solarte’s option will be picked up, the current focus is mostly on the managerial search. #Bluejays— Mike Wilner (@Wilnerness590) October 2, 2018
Yangesrivs Solarte had a nice start to the season but completely cratered in the second half. He finished with the lowest WAR on the team and third-lowest in baseball among qualified players. I can’t imagine the team is even remotely considering picking up his hefty $5,500,000 option (he also has a $750,000 buyout) and this instead is posturing so that they can try to pawn him off on somebody else.
Atkins: If Tulo’s healthy and performing at a very high rate, then he’ll play. If he’s healthy and not performing, he won’t. He will get the opportunity to play, but there are no guarantees in baseball. #Bluejays— Mike Wilner (@Wilnerness590) October 2, 2018
Troy Tulowitzki is adamant that he’s going to be the team’s starting shortstop next season. Despite not having played since July, 2017, Tulo believes that he’s going to be ready to play and, if he’s healthy and there’s somebody better than him, he won’t take anything less than the starting shortstop role. Instead, he’ll pack his bags and go home. Well, Atkins indicated today there are no guarantees about Tulo next season. If he’s healthy and playing well, he’ll play. If not, well, he won’t. I’m still skeptical he’s going to be healthy, to be honest, and that quote makes it seem like Atkins is too.
This will be an interesting thing to follow. I do believe Tulo when he says he isn’t interested in taking anything other than the full-time shortstop role. He doesn’t want to sit on the bench, he doesn’t want to play second or first, he wants to be the starting shortstop. Now, if he’s healthy and isn’t playing well, and the Jays have Aledmys Diaz, Lourdes Gurriel, and even possibly Bo Bichette ready to go, Tulo won’t be that guy. Might we be witnessing him actually packing up his bags and going home?
Atkins said he doesn’t expect #BlueJays to be “jumping up and down on mounds” next year, that’s more realistic in 2020/2021 but hopes pain of last two years isn’t long term: “I hope we’ve endured a great deal (of pain) over the last two years. I certainly have.”— Laura Armstrong (@lauraarmy) October 2, 2018
Atkins: We’ve weathered a lot of the storm over the last couple years. You rebuild when your farm system is depleted, ours is not. #Bluejays— Mike Wilner (@Wilnerness590) October 2, 2018
Atkins: #Bluejays were doing some smart, innovative things before we got here. Advancing that and getting to the point where it’s influential in your decision-making, Houston and TB are ahead of the curve on that. They’ve been doing it longer than everybody else.— Mike Wilner (@Wilnerness590) October 2, 2018
There are a few things here.
First, Atkins isn’t expecting to be competitive in the near future. Next season is a write-off and there aren’t any expectations, and they’re hoping that by 2020 and 2021 the team will be competitive. That really doesn’t inspire all too much confidence, but this isn’t anything new.
Atkins went on to say that he believes the organization has already navigated through the brunt of the rebuild without actually having to, well, tear it down. They added a lot of depth to go along with some top-end talent in the system which sets them up nicely for the future. I imagine, though, that we’ll be enduring a few ugly years before the front office really decides to pony up some cash and add an auxiliary group around the cheap, young core.
Third, I think a big part of this rebuild has gone on behind the scenes. While fans mostly pay attention to talent, whether it’s on the big league roster or in the system, there are a lot of changes going on deep behind what we can notice by watching highlights and seeing box scores. The organization is modernizing and trying to put themselves on the cutting edge of technology and analytics, which will be a huge boost for the developmental system. In the past, the Jays have had a rough time developing players, so hopefully this new, modern approach can improve their ability to translate raw potential into big league talent. Given the breakouts we’ve seen from guys like Kevin Smith and Cavan Biggio, I think there’s definitely reason to be optimistic.
But, in a somewhat different vein, Atkins talks about how defence and base running will be a big priority for the new manager. While the new-school analytics approach in advanced systems is usually emphasizing stuff like launch angle and how to lay off sliders, Atkins is saying he wants the manager to focus on old school stuff that fancy stats has sort of ignored. In the world of fielding independent baseball, we’ve taken value off of defence and running, but Atkins is re-affirming its value to the organization. This ultimately goes along with the organization’s mantra about creating complete players, like when they talk about why Vlad Jr. is staying down, it’s because they want him to be a complete player rather than a hitter.
In sum, there isn’t really much new here. Atkins empathized the communication thing when it came to the new manager which he’s spoke on in the past, he says he’s happy with the farm system and the future of the team which, I mean, what else is he going to say, and he shed some light on the team’s priorities over the off-season and beyond. As we know, it’s going to be ugly, but the glut of Large Adult Sons should make it interesting, at the very least.