Blue Jays: Looking back on Ross Atkins’ work from the 2016 season

David Corcoran
TORONTO, ON - JUNE 29: General manager Ross Atkins of the Toronto Blue Jays speaks to members of the media before the start of MLB game action against the Detroit Tigers at Rogers Centre on June 29, 2018 in Toronto, Canada. (Photo by Tom Szczerbowski/Getty Images)
TORONTO, ON - JUNE 29: General manager Ross Atkins of the Toronto Blue Jays speaks to members of the media before the start of MLB game action against the Detroit Tigers at Rogers Centre on June 29, 2018 in Toronto, Canada. (Photo by Tom Szczerbowski/Getty Images) /
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Now that we have the benefit of a few years of separation, how does Ross Atkins’ work from 2016 look today? It was a good season for building blocks.

Ross Atkins is now creeping up to four full seasons with the Toronto Blue Jays organization and I am not sure there has been a more polarizing General Manager in the team’s history, and that includes J.P. Ricciardi.

Since the day he signed in Toronto, people have critiqued every single move he has made and appear biased against him.  I have to say, some of the moves he has made have left me wondering what he was thinking (ie. Aaron Sanchez trade), but has every move he has made been bad?

Ross Atkins was hired on December 3, 2015, which was following the Blue Jays first return to the post season in 22 years.  Alex Anthopolous, the previous GM, had just decided to leave his role with the team, which led the newly hired President Mark Shapiro to hire Atkins.  In this article, I will look back at the biggest moves he made in his first full season at the helm.

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Best Moves

December 10, 2015 – One week after being hired, Joe Biagini was claimed in the Rule 5 draft and was a stable force in the bullpen, and was also lights out in the playoffs.  Biagini pitched four seasons with the Jays, and once the team realized he wasn’t a starter he was very effective out of the bullpen.

May 31, 2016 – With the team in contention for another playoff spot, the Jays traded prospect Sean Ratcliffe to Atlanta for Jason Grilli.  Grilli brought a ton of energy, leadership and stability to the bullpen.  Grilli was a big part of the back of the rotation for the rest of the season, while Ratcliffe would be pitching in the Ontario Senior Men’s Baseball league by year end.

June 9-10, 2016 – The 2016 draft has been an easy one to remember as Atkins selected both Bo Bichette and Cavan Biggio in that draft.  Many thought Bichette was going to go the school route, but Atkins was able to sign him.  Atkins also drafted top prospect T.J. Zeuch.

August 1, 2016 – With some extra money to spend, the Jays used it to bring on the salary of Francisco Liriano in exchange for struggling pitcher Drew Hutchison.  The payment for taking on Liriano’s contract was acquiring prospects Reese McGuire and Harold Ramirez.  Liriano pitched quite well for the Jays down the stretch with a 2.92 ERA over 50 innings.  With Reese McGuire the Jays have Danny Jansen’s back-up for the foreseeable future.  Hutchison continued to blunder and has now been with five organizations since leaving Toronto.  Ramirez is a conversation for another day as a mistake made by Atkins.

November 12, 2016 – Atkins went out and signed amateur free agent Lourdes Gurriel Jr.  Atkins took a chance on Gurriel Jr. by signing him to a six year deal in the range of 21 million.  The 24-year-old has become the Jays starting left fielder and is becoming a borderline All-Star calibre player.

Offseason 2016 – Throughout spring training of 2016 and the entire season, Jose Bautista wanted it known that he wanted a five year deal and speculation was around $130-$150 million.  Bautista made it known he was not going to take a home town discount as he felt he had already done so with his previous contract.  While the deal was an extremely good contract for the Blue Jays, it wasn’t a home town discount as the Jays were taking a bit of a risk on a five year deal at 65 million for a 31 year old player with just two good seasons to his name.  It worked out very well for the Jays.

However, Bautista was now 36 and on the decline.  Atkins didn’t cave and ended up signing him to a one-year $18 million dollar deal.  Lucky he did, as Bautista struggled and could only get a one million dollar deal the next season and is now out of baseball.  Could you imagine having Bautista still playing at $25+ million a season and for two more years? Sometimes the best signing is the one you don’t make.

Bad Moves

November 3-18, 2016 – Like Bautista, Edwin Encarnacion was a free agent.  It appeared he wanted to return as a Blue Jay, but also wanted to see what was out there.  Whether it was Atkins wanting to do the turnover of getting rid of the old guard, panic or misjudgement, he made a bad mistake.

Instead of giving Encarnacion some time, he panicked and signed Kendrys Morales to a three year deal at $33 million.  Encarnacion would eventually sign with Cleveland and continue to be one of the top power hitters in the game.  Morales would have two mediocre seasons and the Jays would eventually have to pay almost all his salary for Oakland to take him.  Morales is now out of baseball.  This would go down as one of the worst moves Atkins has made over his four year tenure.

Next. August trade waivers would have been useful this year. dark

Overall

Many did not like Atkins from the start because of the fan love for Anthopolous.  Overall, Atkins had a good first season in 2016.  He acquired the Blue Jays’ current starting shortstop, second basemen, left fielder and their back-up catcher.  He brought in some valuable pieces for that season’s playoff run, and did not really lose anything of value during the season.  The only real substantial blunder would be the decision on Encarnacion, but overall his first season deserves a passing grade now that we have the benefit of a few seasons to evaluate that work.

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