Blue Jays general manager Atkins 'disappointed' that Ohtani went to Dodgers
Ross Atkins shares your disappointment, Blue Jays fans. He also felt the sting of Shohei Ohtani turning down Toronto.
Atkins spoke with media on Wednesday after the signings of centre-fielder Kevin Kiermaier and utility man Isiah Kiner-Falefa. Although the Blue Jays general manager didn't want to dwell on Ohtani's decision to choose the Los Angeles Dodgers over Toronto in free agency, he took a moment to commiserate with his team's fan base.
"We were obviously disappointed with the outcome and it was a very difficult phone call to receive, one of the more difficult ones in my career," said Atkins in a video conference. "At the same time, incredible process and group effort and collaboration that we feel so good about.
"Not only that process, but what it meant to be in that position for this organization, for the city, for the country."
Blue Jays fans were whipped into a fever pitch in early December with online rumours that Ohtani had signed with Toronto. The excitement reached a crescendo on Dec. 8 when an online report from Dodgersnation.com said that the Japanese star had chosen to sign with the Blue Jays.
A social media post from a MLB.com reporter who stated Ohtani was en route to Toronto led to social media users tracking what they thought could be the star's flight from Los Angeles to southern Ontario, only for the CBC to report that the individual aboard the private jet was Shark Tank and Dragons' Den star Robert Herjavec.
Atkins confirmed on Wednesday that he had met with Ohtani, a generational talent who is a two-time American League MVP, when the Japanese star was still weighing his options.
"There's no doubt in my mind he was exceptionally attracted to this country, this city, this team," said Atkins. "I felt incredible about the process but we moved on."
Moving on included re-signing Kiermaier on Dec. 28 after he tested the free agent market following one season in Toronto. It also meant inking Kiner-Falefa the next day.
Kiermaier hit .265 with 36 runs batted in, 58 runs, 14 stolen bases and eight home runs for Toronto last year. Kiermaier earned a Gold Glove in his first season patrolling the outfield at Rogers Centre after spending the first nine years of his career with the Tampa Bay Rays.
Kiner-Falefa hit .242 last season with 37 RBIs, 39 runs, 14 stolen bases and six home runs, for the New York Yankees.
Atkins said he wants to stick with the roster he has, even after Toronto (89-73) finished third in the American League East and was swept out of the best-of-three wild card series by the Minnesota Twins.
"We have a team that performed relatively well last year with a disappointing ending that has had good in-season success for four years now, has been broadly together for four years now," said Atkins. "Coming into another group, another team, another year, where we feel better about the group because of their experience, their experiences, and the work that they've put in."
Kiermaier, on a separate conference call, echoed Atkins's sentiments that the current Blue Jays' roster has the personnel necessary to succeed in the post-season.
"Coaches, players, everyone involved, will have a better idea of how we want to attack these things," he said. "If we can just get everyone firing on all cylinders a little bit more at a better pace, we'll be just fine because once again, we've got the talent, we've got guys who've had so much success."
Atkins said that he expects the Blue Jays will try to add one more player before spring training begins, likely filling a role in the outfield or designated hitter categories.
"The things I think we’re missing aren’t people," said Atkins. "The things that we’re missing were our ability to support and help the players.
"We feel like we’ve worked to offset that and put ourselves in a much better position."
There are five key players from last year's Blue Jays roster that have declared free agency and are still unsigned.
Third baseman Matt Chapman, second baseman/outfielder Whit Merrifield, first baseman/DH Brandon Belt, left-handed starting pitcher Hyun-Jin Ryu and right-handed reliever Jordan Hicks have yet to re-sign with Toronto or land anywhere else.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Jan. 3, 2024.