Toronto Blue Jays: The 10 worst moves by GM Ross Atkins since 2015

May 15, 2023; Toronto, Ontario, CAN; Toronto Blue Jays president Mark A. Shapiro and Toronto Blue
May 15, 2023; Toronto, Ontario, CAN; Toronto Blue Jays president Mark A. Shapiro and Toronto Blue / Nick Turchiaro-USA TODAY Sports
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1. Trading Josh Donaldson for a PTBNL

If any one transaction epitomizes how badly the Blue Jays rebuild was set back by poor moves under GM Ross Atkins, it was the August 31, 2018 trade that never should have happened under MLB rules of 2015 AL MVP Josh Donaldson to the Cleveland Indians for a player to be named later, who became the always injured Julian Merryweather, a pitcher who was rehabbing from March 2018 Tommy John surgery at the time. While Merryweather had tantalizing velocity, he was below replacement value for Toronto with a bWAR of -0.1, and pitched to a 5.64 ERA, 4.64 FIP and ERA+ of only 74 in his pedestrian 52.2 innings as a Blue Jay over parts of three seasons. Donaldson has gone on to a cumulative bWAR of 12.0 in his post-Toronto career.

Atkins destroyed any value moving Donaldson could have added to the Blue Jays rebuild by waiting too long to trade him. Ahead of the 2018 season, St. Louis expressed interest in trading top pitching prospect Jack Flaherty and another player to Toronto for Donaldson; Ross whiffed. He’d could have also waited and made a qualifying offer (QO) to Donaldson after the 2018 season, and received a compensatory draft pick if Donaldson rejected the offer, but gave up that optionality as well. The following season, Donaldson helped the Atlanta Braves win the NL East pennant with 37 HRs, 94 RBIs and a .259/.379/.521/.900 slash line and OPS+ of 126.

Atkins had inherited the then 29-year old 2015 AL MVP when he was hired to be the new Blue Jays GM in December 2015. Donaldson had three years left on his contract and was a core player on the back-to-back ALCS teams in 2015-2016. But all of that value was squandered. The return of a PTBNL for a former MVP may, in fact, be one of the worst moves in modern MLB history.

Bad Moves Delayed the Rebuild

With James Click waiting in the wings to take his job, Atkins is certainly on the hot seat this season. We can certainly find fault in many of the moves he’s made going on eight seasons now as Blue Jays GM, plus his critics can point to the lack of postseason wins, as well as the weak farm system. He squandered many of the assets and trade capital at his displosal when he came to Toronto, which delayed the rebuild.

Let’s hope the team can turn things around from here as the weather heats up and they don’t have to face the Tampa Bay Rays or New York Yankees again until the second half of September. And in what must be termed as a “World Series or bust” season given a top five luxury tax payroll at $256 million, and the fact that his predecessor built the core of the 2015 and 2016 ALCS teams in only six seasons of work, Ross Atkins better be hoping that turnaround comes in a hurry. Let’s go Blue Jays!