Should the Blue Jays Consider Replacing GM Ross Atkins?
Poor Roster Management
Despite a 26-man payroll that will approach $185 million in 2023 as per RosterResource, Ross Atkins has not signed a single young homegrown star to a long-term contract extension to buy out their remaining arbitration eligibility and some of their potential free agent years. Guerrero Jr., Bichette, Manoah, Kirk and Romano are all under team control through their arbitration years, but that’s it.
Despite that, the competitive balance (“luxury”) tax payroll should be well over $200 million in 2023. That implies a luxury tax payroll squeeze given the threshold is $233 million next year… likely without any long-term contract extensions?
Compare that again to Braves GM Alex Anthopoulos, who has signed a young homegrown core of CF Ronald Acuña Jr., 2B Ozzie Albies, 3B Austin Riley, OF Michael Harris II and starter Spencer Strider all to long-term contract extensions. Along with an extension to 1B Matt Olson, who was acquired via trade from Oakland, MLBTR notes, “All six of those players are now under club control through at least the 2027 season, giving the Braves a level of continuity and cost certainty that is unparalleled throughout the league.”
The Blue jays under Atkins have made aggressive contract extension offers to Randal Grichuk and Jose Berríos, both acquired via trade. They’ve made big free-agent signing splashes with Hyun Jun Ryu, George Springer, and Kevin Gausman.
But they haven’t got a level of continuity and cost certainty yet like the Braves, with only current Jays Springer, Gausman and Berríos signed through 2026, and only Manoah, Kirk and Espinal still under team control via arbitration through that season.
Blue Jays have not signed any core player to a long-term extension
Further, the 40-man roster management has been exceedingly poor. Examples of this include acquiring players out of minor league options (or running out), including Derek Fisher in 2019 and Mitch White in 2022. If they don’t stick with the big league club, they have to be passed through waivers before they can be demoted.
Worse still, Atkins has added additional cost via trade, like the $4 million incentive bonus Merrifield earned for 2023 by staying off the IL for more than 110 days in 2022, not to mention an $18 million mutual option in 2024.
He’s also made some terrible free agent signings, including Kendrys Morales ($33 million), Jaime García ($10 million), Tanner Roark ($24 million), Kirby Yates ($5.5 million), Shun Yamaguchi ($6.35 million), Tyler Chatwood ($3 million), and a disastrous and nonsensical 3-year, $36 million offer to Yusei Kikuchi, who pitched to a 5.19 ERA this year, in line with his career average of 5.02.
That would have been the second-worst ERA for a starter in MLB after Jose Berríos at 5.23, but Kikuchi only pitched 100.2 innings, so he wasn’t a qualified starter. Whether he can improve in 2023 and 2024 remains to be seen.
And despite all the talk from Ross Atkins of the need for swing-and-miss arms in the bullpen, he’s let lots of hard-throwing arms just leave via waivers, free agency and trades. That list includes 100mph arms in Bryan Baker and Jason Adam, who combined for a 3.8 bWAR this year, as well as two 6’5” flamethrowing prospects in Nick Frasso and Moises Brito, both moved to the Dodgers to acquire Mitch White at this year’s trade deadline. Instead, he’s kept Julian Merryweather and Nate Pearson in the organization, despite constant injuries and poor results at the MLB level.