It sounds like the Blue Jays are trying to sign Ross Atkins to an extension as the GM of their front office, and he’s more than earned a new contract.
There was a time when I wouldn’t have said that, and I’m sure there are plenty of Jays fans who can relate. The 47-year-old took over at a very difficult and delicate time after the 2015 season, and he’s navigated some tough waters in an impressive way. On one hand he was handed a playoff calibre roster, but on the other, the organization knew that group was on their last legs, and Atkins was hired to build the next generation.
It wasn’t easy to watch stars like Jose Bautista, Edwin Encarnacion, Josh Donaldson and more move on to play for new teams, but with the benefit of hindsight it’s pretty difficult to argue with the path that Atkins chose. Instead of being saddled with big-money veteran contracts for aging stars in their late 30’s, Atkins and the front office have been able to turn over the roster is very short order, re-branding the team with talented young faces and bringing back the excitement to the fan base.
The more I think about it, the more impressive the short-term rebuild seems. The Jays were good enough to make the playoffs again in 2016 in Atkins’ first year at the helm, and that winter was when their rebuild quietly began when Encarnacion left for Cleveland.
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They were 76-86 in 2017 before they had fully committed to the turnover, and then went through two tough seasons at 73-89 in 2018, and the low point of 67-96 in 2019. And then came last season, when we could see the painting starting to come together, and the Blue Jays surprised at least a year early by qualifying for the playoffs during the shortened season. It may have come with an expanded postseason bracket, but that hardly matters to the young roster and the front office that assembled them.
This front office has done an excellent job of identifying talent, in their own system, in the draft, and with some of the trades they’ve made over the last few years. The track record hasn’t been flawless, with investments in relative flops like Kendrys Morales, Derek Fisher, or maybe even Tanner Roark, but more often than not they’ve come out ahead in their dealings.
What’s put my faith in Atkins and his staff over the top is the that they’ve been able to find some finishing touches to a rebuild already, and the work isn’t totally done. They impressed Hyun Jin Ryu enough to get him to sign last winter, and the same thing happened with George Springer this year, and to a lesser extent with Marcus Semien as well. It hasn’t always been the easiest task to get free agents to come north of the border, but I doubt that’s going to be a problem for at least the next 5-6 years now.
With Mark Shapiro already with a new contract to stick around, it seems like a natural move to continue what’s been a successful partnership in Toronto so far. It should be a mere formality at this point, and I’m sure the two sides will come to an agreement before the new season begins. At the end of the day, Atkins has earned this extension, even if I likely wouldn’t have said the same a few years ago. I’m happy to admit that I was wrong, and I look forward to seeing what he’s going to do over the next few years ahead.