It didn’t happen overnight, but Ross Atkins and Mark Shapiro have put the Blue Jays in an enviable position in a relatively short amount of time.
When Atkins took over as the GM before the 2016 season, the Jays were at the end of a successful run with an aging core. As much as I loved the group highlighted by Jose Bautista, Edwin Encarnacion, Josh Donaldson and more, by 2017 it was pretty clear that the window of contention was closing. Most of us didn’t want to admit it at the time, but a rebuild was in order.
That didn’t make Atkins or Shapiro very popular with the Blue Jays’ fan base for the first few years, as they passed on re-signing their aging vets and turned toward a youth movement. There were no guarantees at the time, but fortunately they made plenty of savvy decisions that have slowly but surely paid off. They inherited a few pieces like Vladimir Guerrero Jr., but they drafted players like Bo Bichette (2nd rd) and Cavan Biggio (5th rd) in 2016, traded for Teoscar Hernandez in 2017, and slowly starting to build a new core.
Now that Guerrero Jr., Bichette, Biggio, and more talented youngsters have risen to the highest level, the plan has worked almost exactly how you’d draw it up for a rebuild. There’s a nice homegrown core, and last offseason they started to legitimately supplement the roster with the signing of Hyun Jin Ryu to be a true ace for the rotation. Now that they’ve signed George Springer to a blockbuster six-year deal, and are looking to do even more, I’m really appreciating the long-term lens that this front office has worked with.
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Even after agreeing with Springer, the Blue Jays should have plenty of payroll space to be able to sign almost anyone. According to spotrac.com, they have 78.7 million with the official agreement in place with Kirby Yates. Once Springer’s deal is complete as well, they’re in the 104 million range (unless it’s back or front-loaded), and that means there’s all kinds of room work with. That also lines up with all the rumours we’re hearing about their continued pursuits of other free agent targets like Michael Brantley and Brad Hand, among others.
In addition to the available money, Atkins has some legitimate trade pieces to work with as well, likely including an outfielder now that Springer has joined the fold. If that means they’re entertaining the idea of trading someone like Lourdes Gurriel Jr., then the return would be significant. When it looked like the Blue Jays had signed Brantley, it felt like Gurriel Jr. could be on the block. We’ll see how things proceed from here, but with an extra outfielder, a ton of catching depth and more, it feels like a trade or two is destined before Opening Day.
On paper the Blue Jays already look like they could and should be playoff contenders. They could still use a starting pitcher or two, and someone who can offer more security at third base than the idea of playing Vlad Jr. there full time, but we’ve gotta give credit where it’s due. Atkins and the front office have done an impressive job of this rebuild in a relatively short time.
Of course, the talented young team still has to go out and prove that they can be legitimate World Series contenders, but things look very promising both now and in the future. With a talented roster, money to spend, and plenty of pontential trade assets, it looks like Atkins and Shapiro’s plans are starting to come to fruition.