Ross Atkins’ first media quotes of spring training suggest no moves on the horizon

“At this point, additions that would be of significance would mean some level of subtraction.”

Spring Training
Spring Training / Billie Weiss/Boston Red Sox/GettyImages

Day one of pitchers and catchers reporting in Dunedin, Florida brought some great storylines to warm Blue Jays fans’ hearts after a dreary, unsatisfying offseason: offensive coordinator Don Mattingly showed up rocking a new ‘silver fox’ beard; a slimmed down Alek Manoah looks like a man seriously intent on winning back his rotation job; and, that thump of fastballs hitting catchers' leather could only mean one thing: baseball is back!

Yes, there are some hiccups, like the delayed arrival of newly signed Cuban righty Yariel Rodríguez due to ongoing visa issues, with Bowden Francis and Mitch White being built up as starters before he arrives. Manager John Schneider said that Cavan Biggio has left shoulder tendinitis, but otherwise the whole squad appears healthy and ready to go.

The Blue Jays did make one minor addition, reportedly signing 35-year-old infielder Eduardo Escobar to a minor league deal, pending a physical. Escobar played 65 games at 3B (DRS -4), 20 games at 2B (DRS -3) and 5 games at 1B last year (DRS -1), but only hit 6 home runs in 99 games between the Mets and Angels, with a .613 OPS and -1.1 bWAR. The Angels bought him out for $500K instead of exercising his $9M option.

Unfortunately, this isn’t the 2019 version of Escobar, who slugged 35 homers with 118 RBI and an .831 OPS, or the 2021 All-Star who had 28 home runs with 90 RBI and a .786 OPS .

Atkins speaks

Now starting his ninth season as the general manager of the Blue Jays, Ross Atkins apparently still hasn’t taken any lessons on speaking with — or handling — the media, and came out with some cold water to douse whatever remaining embers were left in the offseason ‘hot stove’.

In his media availability, when asked if there might be any big reinforcements coming before Opening Day on March 28, Atkins said, “At this point, additions that would be of significance would mean some level of subtraction.” In plain English, that translates as “No, nothing big is coming.”

So unless he’s playing 3D chess with agent Scott Boras, that means none of the big remaining free agents like Cody Bellinger, Blake Snell, J.D. Martinez or Matt Chapman are happening. It also means no trades to add one-year rentals like Shane Bieber, Lucas Giolito or Yoan Moncada.

It also sounds as though the Blue Jays are bumping up against their payroll budget for 2024, with the competitive balance tax (luxury tax) payroll — excluding the Escobar signing — currently estimated at between $245M (per Spotrac) and $251M (per FanGraphs); Cot’s Baseball Contracts estimates the CBT payroll at $250M.

That would rank 6th or 7th among the 30 MLB teams in terms of their 2024 luxury tax payroll; and, would make the Blue Jays a tax payor for a second consecutive season, which carries an extra level of penalties, like a 30% tax rate on all overages above the $237M CBT threshold this year. There’s also a 12% surcharge if they were to spend anywhere between $257M and $277M.

As a CBT payor, should Toronto sign a free agent who rejected a qualifying offer (QO) after the upcoming season, they would also lose their second- and fifth-highest selections in the 2025 Amateur Draft, as well as $1M from their international bonus pool for the next signing period.

This could potentially handcuff the front office from trying to sign some of the players likely to receive a QO after this season, including Juan Soto, Paul Goldschmidt, Pete Alonso, Corbin Burnes, Max Fried, Alex Bregman and Bieber.

Especially given only Danny Jansen, Yusei Kikuchi, Yimi García, Kevin Kiermaier, Justin Turner and Trevor Richards are free agents after this season, freeing up only ~$48M in payroll room for signings and potential long-term contract extensions for Bo Bichette and Vlad Guerrero Jr. for next year and beyond.

After a $5M tax bill for Toronto in 2023, Spotrac projects a $1.9M tax bill for 2024 based on the current 40-man roster. So could Atkins just be saying that the Rogers’ ownership group hasn’t approved any more payroll budget above and beyond the current number?

That may strike many fans as odd given they’d appeared willing to offer Shohei Ohtani a similar $700M contract as the one he ended up signing with the Dodgers, but it sounds more like he was an exceptional, one-off case rather than a commitment to a much higher payroll level, even if the contract was structured where the bulk of it was deferred? So what does that mean in terms of extensions for soon-to-be Jays’ free agents?

And did the Blue Jays do enough this offseason to improve their chances in the uber competitive AL East, where the Yankees traded for Juan Soto and the new Orioles ownership approved a trade for ace Corbin Burnes, and where the head of that ownership group is posting tweets like this?

So yet again, a Ross Atkins presser leaves us with more questions than answers. Not a great way to kick off the 2024 campaign, especially after a winter of discontent. There are seats to sell following the $300M Rogers Centre facelift.

So fans would be forgiven if they thought Atkins might have learned from his past disasters, and learned how to communicate effectively with the media and fans after over eight years on the job. But like fans hoping for another big bat to juice the Jays’ offence this year, that seems a step too far.