Atkins tight-lipped about Jays' blueprint as New Year arrives
TORONTO — With six weeks to go until pitchers and catchers report to Dunedin, Ross Atkins feels “very good” about the team he has in place.
On Wednesday morning during his first Zoom update of the New Year with the media, the Toronto Blue Jays GM stated that over and over, quietly reiterating a point that’s been made since the season ended.
If things are going to go better for this club in 2024, internal improvements need to be a huge part of the equation.
That’s not to say the Jays are ready to sit things out after a surprisingly modest amount of work up to this point.
After chasing Shohei Ohtani and his $700-million sticker price, they can’t be done, can they?
“We feel very good about the team that is in place, and as we look to improve upon it we see opportunities for us moving forward,” said Atkins, who was followed on Zoom by Isiah Kiner-Falefa and Kevin Kiermaier, the club’s only two moves so far this off-season.
“Really, just focused on getting better. Again, strong team that we’re committed to improving upon.”
Atkins shared little about the actual plan moving forward between now and spring training.
That’s because there are still so many moving parts, thanks to both the nature of the way this Jays front office works — usually methodically — and the number of quality players still on the market.
A high-end remains in Cody Bellinger and Matt Chapman, but it’s the veteran middle tier of names like Rhys Hoskins, Jorge Soler, Joc Pederson, JD Martinez and Justin Turner that’s likely to provide a bargain or two for savvy teams with the right holes, money to spend, and a little bit of patience.
Never forget that Atkins’ best work, a move no one can reasonably expect to duplicate, came on Jan. 26 three years ago when he agreed to terms with Marcus Semien on a one-year steal that came with little fanfare at the time.
The market this year has taken a similar pace to that 2020-21 winter, and a number of clubs are hoping to take advantage.
Almost every team across baseball still has a ton of roster work to do. The Jays are far from alone.
“We could be open to a trade,” Atkins mentioned. “We are not actively looking to trade away from our major league team, so there’s a lot of different ways that we could continue to complement or add to the team in an impactful way.”
The Plan A impact chase essentially died when Shohei Ohtani broke Jays fans hearts and chose the Dodgers, and Juan Soto was flipped to the Yankees for a better package of prospects than the Jays could’ve possibly produced.
“That disappointment is shared,” Atkins said of the Ohtani drama. “We were obviously very disappointed with the outcome and that was a hard phone call to receive, one of the more difficult ones in my career.
“Not the outcome we wanted, but feel really good about the process and absolutely felt like (Ohtani’s interest in Toronto) was authentic and real.”
With seemingly obvious holes still at third base and DH, as well as a need for starting pitching depth of some sort, Atkins again reiterated his comfort and pointed to improvement from within.
“We feel like last year’s just a blip in terms of run scoring,” he said.
“I think we have plenty of power to drive in runs. It doesn’t mean we’re not open to adding another power bat.”
A promise to improve the offence on paper back in November has not yet been fulfilled, but at least there’s still time in the marathon known as the Major League Baseball off-season.