Did the Ross Atkins press conference mark the low point of the Blue Jays’ season?

Toronto’s playoff odds bottomed out on May 18th.
Tampa Bay Rays v Toronto Blue Jays
Tampa Bay Rays v Toronto Blue Jays / Mark Blinch/GettyImages

The Toronto Blue Jays are now 2-2 since general manager Ross Atkins’ press availability on Saturday. Could that event have marked the nadir of the team’s 2024 performance and been the low point of their season? The team is now 21-26 and 10.5 games back of the Yankees in the AL East, but only 3.5 games back in the wild card standings.

“Overall, the thing that gives us the greatest sense of confidence is the sense of urgency in our clubhouse and that is from one to 26 on our player roster and throughout the staff,” Atkins said.

The key takeaways from the presser offered nothing new. However, as MLB Blue Jays beat writer Keegan Matheson wrote recently, “There are already long-term implications to what this club does in the coming days and weeks. Even though the calendar reads May, the second half of the season and trade deadline can creep up quickly.”

Reading the tea leaves in parsing Atkins’ words, Blue Jays fans should not expect any big changes at least until the trade deadline, if at all. “We’ve made changes to our process. We’ve made changes to people, some of it personnel, and that’s what we’re working on. It does take time, and it hasn’t happened soon enough and it needs to start,” he said. In other words, stay the course… for now.

Atkins was very complimentary of the hitting at Triple-A Buffalo, name-dropping Orelvis Martinez, Spencer Horwitz and Addison Barger among others, and also suggested the Blue Jays are interested in adding via trade. Of course, the current 26-man roster he built has a $226M payroll, the 9th-highest in the majors. So some might wonder if he’s talking up these prospects as potential trade currency, or as replacements should the Blue Jays decide to sell ahead of the trade deadline?

Of course, no big trades were made last offseason, when the only new additions — besides re-signing Kevin Kiermaier and exercising their option on Chad Green, were free agent contracts for Isiah Kiner-Falefa and Justin Turner. So it feels a bit like ‘Groundhog Day” to hear Atkins say two months into the season, “We [presently] feel that the best contributions that could create that change in run scoring are going to come from within our clubhouse or triple-A, with the players that are here.” In English, that means they’re still betting on internal improvement.

Ben Nicholson-Smith of Sportsnet suggests that, if the Jays do become sellers at the July trade deadline, “[Yusei] Kikuchi and [Yimi] Garcia might be among the most coveted pitchers available in that scenario, while pending free agents like [Kevin] Kiermaier, Justin Turner and Danny Jansen could also draw interest. One scenario that’s not presently in consideration for the Blue Jays: a major shake-up that would see them blow things up for 2025 and beyond.”

Kaitlyn McGrath of The Athletic (subscription required) takes this last point a step further: “It’s also worth mentioning that should things continue to go south for the Blue Jays, Atkins, who has been the GM since December 2015, may no longer be at the helm to make those big-picture decisions if ownership seeks a change in leadership if another season ends without a championship.”

Could an easier strength of schedule ahead help to right this ship? Or is this a continuation of the “blip” in the offence Atkins referenced after the disappointing end to last season? Could reinforcements from Buffalo inject some life into the offence, much like Davis Schneider’s bat after his call up last August 4th?

Obviously with a last place team, there are many outstanding questions. But apparently a call-up of Orelvis Martinez anytime soon is off the table. When pressed on Martinez on Saturday, Atkins said there are a few reasons the Blue Jays haven’t called up Martinez to make his MLB debut, and his development at second base is one.

“It’s a combination of where he would play here, him learning to play second at a level that would be average to above [average] and the benefit of player development and that time for a 22-year-old,” Atkins said. “Those three things are what is keeping him in Triple A at this point.”

What about the changes to the batting order, like Davis Schneider leading off, dropping George Springer down to sixth, and putting Danny Jansen up to second? Jansen went 3-for-5 with a home run and 5 RBI on Monday. Prior to Tuesday evening, his 1.079 OPS was the highest in the American League for players with a minimum of 70 at-bats!

Sure, their playoff odds remain mired at only 22.6% per FanGraphs, but that’s up from the May 18th low of 17.1%… which just happens to coincide with the Ross Atkins presser.