Since becoming the general manager of the Blue Jays back in late 2015, Ross Atkins has heard it all from the organization’s fanbase. Not very popular at the beginning of his job, Atkins and co. guided the Blue Jays through an intense rebuilding period that saw a young core develop from within the farm system as well as veteran players being traded away or given their walking players. Fast forward to 2021, and the club appears to be set up for multiple playoff runs over the next few seasons.
During this time, Atkins has made numerous trades, some good and some bad. Recently he has made some pretty solid acquisitions, acquiring Adam Cimber and Corey Dickerson from the Marlins for Joe Panik and a prospect as well as trading for Steven Matz with the New York Mets for a trio of players, highlighted by the inconsistent former top prospect Sean Reid-Foley.
The Josh Donaldson deal is the one that most fans probably wish they could undo but there is another trade that Ross Atkins would probably like to undo given the consequences it has had on the Blue Jays.
Back in 2018, the Blue Jays acquired infielder Gio Urshela from the Cleveland Indians in exchange for a player to be named later. He was essentially a bench player that helped give the Blue Jays some extra depth as they were continuing to rebuild and losing some of their veteran players. Donaldson was battling injuries at the time and there was the potential that Aledmys Diaz was going to miss a significant amount of time on the IL with an ankle sprain.
Owning a .225 batting average through two seasons and 148 games with Cleveland, Urshela joined the Blue Jays and would only appear in 19 games, slashing .233/.283/.326 with a .608 OPS through 43 at-bats. He would be designated for assignment in late June and would eventually be traded to the New York Yankees on August 4th for a player to be named later, spending the rest of the season in the minor leagues.
Since taking up the role of Blue Jays general manager, Ross Atkins has made plenty of moves, with one, in particular, sticking out as a deal he would like to undo.
At the time of the deal, this seemed like pretty minor news and did not have a big impact on the Blue Jays overall. He wasn’t with the active roster at the time of the deal and with the young core coming up in the minor leagues, he would most likely be getting in the way of their development, especially since Vladimir Guerrero Jr. was still playing third base at the time.
The righty batting Colombian product would make his Yankees debut in early April and basically turned his career around, finding a way to put the ball in play in the confines of Yankee Stadium and also adding some power to his bat.
Since putting on the pinstripes, Urshela has produced some monster seasons for the Yankees, crafting two 130+ OPS+ seasons and also adding 31 home runs over the past three seasons, an aspect to his game that fans had not seen at the Major League level. The infielder has experienced his fair share of injuries since being traded but it’s hard to ignore the .889 and .858 OPS seasons he put up in 2019 and 2020.
Another key aspect is that Urshela has spent the past three seasons with the Bronx Bombers primarily playing third base, a position that has now turned into an area of improvement on the current roster for the Blue Jays. While the notion at the time was that Guerrero Jr. was the third baseman of the future, with the young star now occupying first base, there would have been room for the club to keep Urshela on the big league club. He has crafted a .968 fielding percentage through three seasons with the Yankees at the hot corner.
Now there are two things that need to be considered with this scenario:
1. There is absolutely no way to predict that Urshela would have produced the same results if the Blue Jays never dealt him to the Yankees and he made the club to begin the 2019 season
2. Even if Urshela stayed with the Blue Jays and produced the same results, the club was not contending in 2019 but definitely could have used his bat in 2020 and this past season.
What makes this deal hurt the most is that he is now on a division rival and can inflict pain on the Blue Jays for a good part of the season. In 45 games against the Jays, he has crafted a .275/.299/.421 with a .720 OPS and six home runs with 24 RBI. He is also entering his second year of arbitration, so he will be facing the Jays over the next two seasons before hitting free agency.
You can’t really fault Atkins for this trade, however, as I am sure not many would have predicted that Urshela would turn his career around as he has with the Yankees. While this seemed like a nothing sort of trade back in 2018, this is one deal that Ross Atkins would probably like to have back.