For the life of me, I can’t understand why I see so much criticism of Ross Atkins and his front office team from Blue Jays fans on social media.
It’s nowhere near as frequent as it was back in July before they made their moves to bolster the pitching staff, but I’m still consistently seeing fans complaining about Atkins and the front office in Toronto. I understand the odd swipe here and there (feel free to criticize the trade for Brad Hand, for example), but overall I think Blue Jays fans should be very happy with the rebuild that’s happened over the last few years.
The only explanation I can really come up with is that the majority of the harshest critics haven’t been following this team as long as I have, which is totally fine. I started as a serious fan of the Blue Jays in 1991 (it would have been earlier, but I was only seven years old at that point), and have been an avid follower of the team ever since. That also means that while I was already on board in time to experience the glory of the World Series championships in 1992 and 1993, I’ve also cheered for this team when they’ve been at their lowest, and there have been some rough patches over the last 28 seasons.
More specific to that, I remember the optimism that came with J.P. Ricciardi (Jays GM from Nov 2001- Oct 2009) when he was named as the GM in Toronto, and all of the hype that came along with his arrival. Before that I can recall routinely trying to convince myself that Gord Ash (GM from Oct 1994- Oct 2001) was the man for the job. There wasn’t even a playoff appearance between the tenures of the two.
Alex Anthopoulos (GM from Oct 2009- Oct 2015) is fondly remembered in Toronto, but that’s mostly because of a ridiculously exciting July in his final year with the organization. That was the summer he was allowed free range on aggressive trades, and it resulted in the acquisitions of David Price, Troy Tulowitzki, Ben Revere, LaTroy Hawkins, and more. The team went on a magical run and made the playoffs, falling just short of their ultimate goal by getting losing in the ALCS to the Kansas City Royals, and then “AA” was gone.
I understand why it took fans a while to warm up to Ross Atkins, especially given the circumstances of Anthopoulos’ departure. I definitely understood that a portion of the fan base was going to hate the dismantling of that veteran playoff team that started after the 2016 season when Edwin Encarnacion signed in Cleveland, but a lot has happened since then. They made mistakes, such as waiting too long to trade a former MVP in Josh Donaldson, but I believe that good far outweighs the bad.
Instead of taking eight seasons to never deliver on a playoff appearance like Ricciardi, or seven from Ash, Atkins and Mark Shapiro’s front office team has rebuilt the organization pipelines and already made a contender out of them in just a few short years. I would argue that 2018 and 2019 were the only seasons that we had to endure any kind of true rebuild, and 2020 brought a cup of playoff coffee for the Jays during the 60-game shortened season that included expanded playoffs.
It was definitely a disappointment that the Blue Jays finished just one game outside of the playoffs this year, but in the grand scheme of things there is still a lot to celebrate about a 91-win campaign. Young core pieces like Vladimir Guerrero Jr., Bo Bichette, Lourdes Gurriel Jr., and Alek Manoah took major steps forward to reaching their full star potential, and they were far from the only stories to celebrate. I could go over all of the upside, but I could simply sum it up by saying that the Blue Jays put baseball world on notice, and they’re going to be a problem for several years to come. They have an excellent homegrown core that has been supplemented by valuable veteran players, and there is money to spend this winter and in the future.
I’m not going to pretend that there’s nothing to criticize here as far as the front offices goes. I already mentioned the disaster that was trading for Brad Hand, and I think the biggest mistake was not boosting the bullpen a little sooner through the trade market, but hindsight is 20/20. On the plus side, their moves for Robbie Ray, Marcus Semien, and Steven Matz worked out brilliantly, and they weren’t the only acquisitions that Atkins should be proud of either. Hopefully the Blue Jays can re-sign the trio and add a few other pieces again this winter, but unfortunately it won’t come at the same bargain rate this time.
As I look forward to what will be a busy offseason for Atkins and Shapiro, I’m actually excited to see how things play out rather than bracing myself for disappointment. That doesn’t mean they’re going to be able to sign Semien, Ray, or anyone in particular, but I’m confident that the front office is going to move aggressively to improve the team, and I’m now at a point where I trust that they’ll mostly make the right decisions.
That’s a far cry from how I felt about them just a few short years ago, and I’m surprised that there are so many haters still out there. I figured that would wait at least until after free agency had officially opened, and until then, I think Blue Jays fans should be confident with the front office team in Toronto these days. Yes, they came up a little short in 2021, but overall I think they’re building something pretty special.