It’s Time to End the Ross Atkins Experiment
Given the inability of the baseball operations side to get the alchemy right on building a World Series championship team, it’s time to hire someone who can. For example, current Blue Jays VP of baseball strategy James Click, who oversaw a Houston Astros roster that put up a 230-154 record (.599), two AL West pennants, three ALCS appearances, two World Series and the 2022 World Series championship in his three seasons as Houston Astros GM.
The move to promote Click should be done as soon as possible given some key decisions are imminent. He will have to hit the ground running as the Blue Jays have some key players who are pending free agents, including Hyun Jin Ryu, Matt Chapman, Brandon Belt, Kevin Kiermaier, Whit Merrifield and Jordan Hicks.
According to the NY Post, MLB’s qualifying offer will rise to approximately $20.5 million for players on the upcoming free-agent market from $19.65 million last year. Should the Jays make a QO to Chapman to at least guarantee draft pick compensation should he sign elsewhere?
The GM will also have to weigh trying to sign free agent replacements for Ryu, Belt, Kiermaier, Merrifield, Hicks and Chapman if they aren’t resigned. With a free agent class that includes Shohei Ohtani and Cody Bellinger, as well as starters Blake Snell, Aaron Nola and likely Eduardo Rodriguez - who can opt out of his contract, there are some good options.
Or, will the Jays try to get younger (and cheaper) by promoting top prospects like Davis Schneider, Ricky Tiedemann, Orelvis Martinez, Addison Barger, Spencer Horwitz, Cam Eden and Alan Roden?
What will the team do with starter Alek Manoah, who will likely be a key offseason reclamation project after serious regression in 2023? Will they finally get players like Guerrero Jr., Manoah and Kirk to improve their offseason conditioning program to the point where they can show up to spring training next February ready for the grind of another 162 game schedule?
And can they finally sign some of their young, homegrown core to long term contract extensions that buy out some of their potential free agent years?
It shouldn’t be lost on Jays fans that Atkins’ predecessor, Alex Anthopoulos, is building a Hall of Fame resume with the Atlanta Braves. His Braves teams have won six consecutive NL East titles, the 2021 World Series championship, and are currently the odds on favourites to win the 2023 World Series.
Anthopolous has also signed seven of his core players to long term contract extensions, whereas the Blue Jays currently only have José Berríos, Kevin Gausman and George Springer signed through the 2026 season. Bo Bichette and Vlad are both potential free agents after the 2025 season, as are Cavan Biggio, Chris Bassitt, Jordan Romano, Tim Mayza and Erik Swanson.
Atkins is on his third manager in eight seasons, with John Gibbons, Charlie Montoyo and John Schneider all unable to guide the team on the field to deep postseason runs. He has also clearly empowered his analytics group to be involved in key ‘in game’ decision making, like pulling Berríos after 47 pitches.
As Sportsnet 590 The FAN’s Jeff Blair told Sportsnet Central host Ken Reid, “it’s almost as if the only scenario they didn’t prepare for was ‘José Berríos coming out and dealing’?” It was likely GM Ross Atkins who enabled his analytics group to be so involved in that decision, which now looks inexcusable.
The roster he assembled for 2023 was also one of the oldest in MLB at almost 30 years of age on average, and his successor will inherit another three years on the 34-year old George Springer contract with an AAV of $25 million, plus will have to try and sign Bichette, Guerrero, Alejandro Kirk, Danny Jansen, Romano, Daulton Varsho, Mayza and Swanson to longer term extensions.