It’s a little frustrating for Blue Jays fan that their team missed out on another free agent starter pitcher, and Ross Atkins’ explanations aren’t helping.
Over the last few years I’ve noticed that baseball executives are speaking more like politicians all the time, finding creative ways to spin bad news toward a positive light. We’ve been getting this sort of thing as Blue Jays fans for years, but it seems like it’s becoming more of a “thing” with each passing year.
And quite frankly, I don’t think Ross Atkins is very good at it, or perhaps I’m just not buying what he’s selling anymore.
On one hand, I don’t know what Atkins and the rest of the front office are supposed to say to some of the difficult questions they’re asked on a consistent basis. Some things can’t be answered honestly in the media, whether that’s in the interest of protecting the players on your own team, or tipping your hand too much to the competition.
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But these days it just feels like the Blue Jays’ GM is struggling more than usual to come up with a solid response to questions from the media. He’s always been that way, as are most GM’s, but I feel like there was a turning point after several veterans were dealt in July and Atkins sold the trades on “turning 14 years of control into 42”, which didn’t exactly play well with the fan base or the media.
It hasn’t helped at all that former players have criticized the Blue Jays as they’ve departed in recent years. At times it feels pretty hollow like what we heard from a guy like Troy Tulowitzki, but there has been plenty of criticism Marcus Stroman, Aaron Sanchez, and most recently another dose from Josh Donaldson, who told reporters on Wednesday that the Blue Jays wouldn’t want him back.
The Blue Jays’ GM didn’t help his own cause all that much with his comments to the media on Wednesday either. After missing out on their pursuit of Zack Wheeler, Atkins was asked about how they might pivot from here. The responses were more of the same “GM-Speak” that we’ve grown accustomed to from Atkins, and I have to say, I’m started to get tired of it.
One example that really stood out was shared by Sportnet’s Shi Davidhi in a two-part tweet:
"“(The Blue Jays will) continue doing what we’ve been doing to understand every opportunity across the entire market, the top of it, the middle of it and beyond that. There’s not a free agent pitcher that we haven’t touched base with and we have been aggressively trying to understand every opportunity and we’ll continue to do that. There remains opportunity out there.”"
What does that even mean? “Aggressively trying to understand every opportunity”?
Look, I get that there are certain things that Atkins can’t come out and say. Whether it’s that he doesn’t want to publicly admit that a free agent wouldn’t seriously consider the Blue Jays, that they can’t (or won’t) keep up with the bidding, or whatever the reason may be. They want to present Toronto as a desirable free agent destination and to have agents believe that they represent a serious contender in the market. Maybe Atkins and his team have accomplished that with their “aggression” this off-season, but I think I speak for most of the fan base when I say that this feels like the same old story with a slightly different package.
Another particularly juicy quote from Atkins on Wednesday came courtesy of the Toronto Sun’s Rob Longley:
"“We didn’t chose to have 2019 occur. That’s not what our vision was. Our vision was trying to do everything we could to extend that window with the parameters that we had.”"
For context, Atkins is talking about trying to keep the competitive window open for the team that he and Mark Shapiro inherited after the 2015 season. However, that’s a long time ago now, and for Atkins to say that they “didn’t choose” for the way last season went down is false in my mind. I’m not saying it was the wrong thing to do, but the front office made the concious decision to jettison their aging veterans and give opportunities to their emerging young players. They urged the fan base to have patience and that this was the start of a true rebuild. I fail to understand how they they didn’t “choose” that path?
It’s hard to say what the front office thinks of how the off-season has gone so far, as we don’t know the financial directives that Atkins and his team have been given. I’ll concede that it’s possible that the front office has been told to sell a narrative of “trying”, while not really being willing to go the extra mile. There’s also still plenty of time to improve this roster, and free agency isn’t the only way to do that.
However, at this stage it feels like we’re being set up for familiar disappointment, and that feeling was palpable on social media last night. Not that the front office has ever been terribly popular in Toronto, having the recent success of Alex Anthopoulos to follow after a complicated exit, but it felt like there was a shift from off-season optimism to deflated acceptance of mediocrity.
Atkins’ comments to the media on Wednesday not only didn’t help, they may have actually made things a little worse in the fan base’s view. If I’m being fair, I’m glad that the Blue Jays didn’t outbid the other suitors for Zack Wheeler’s free agent services, which got a little out of hand in the end. That said, Atkins needed to do a better job of explaining that with his comments, and instead he talked in his all too familiar circles. I understand that it’s part of his job to do that, but the act is starting to grow very tired with me, and I’m sure I’m not the only one.