Blue Jays Confidential: Evaluating Atkins after his new extension

Toronto Blue Jays GM Ross Atkins. (Chris Young/CP)

Each week Blue Jays Confidential will ask a panel of Sportsnet Blue Jays Insiders and personalities to weigh in on issues big and small with the team, and around Major League Baseball.

1. If the Blue Jays end up trading a combination of Justin Smoak, Aaron Sanchez, Fredd Galvis and Ken Giles, should they also consider acquiring a respected veteran, even as a 25th man a la Mark DeRosa, to assist the young players through what will likely be a trying second half?

Jeff Blair (@SNJeffBlair):
Nah. I’d rather give the clubhouse over to the kids completely. Not sure a 25th man helps the team on the field, anyhow, which is where they’ll need assistance.

Arden Zwelling (@ArdenZwelling):
As the Blue Jays march on toward 100 losses, I don’t know that the presence of some washed dude who gives good interviews would really make a dramatic impact on the spirits of the 24 other less-experienced players. I think those individuals can look to the club’s robust coaching staff for that kind of wisdom and development.

The impact Carlie Montoyo, John Schneider, and Dave Hudgens have on young players is well-established; Matt Buschmann, Shelley Duncan, and Nevin Ashley are all in their mid-to-late 30’s and not far removed from their playing days; pitchers sing the praises of Pete Walker all the time; Luis Rivera and Guillermo Martinez are both strong resources for the club’s Latin American players. Plus, if the younger Blue Jays are given the space to establish their own clubhouse culture, natural leaders will emerge to fill the vacuum. That should be a positive going forward.

Shi Davidi (@ShiDavidi):
It’s tough to do that mid-season and I’m not sure that guy would be available at this point, at least one worth a roster spot. And, even if he is, a guy can’t just parachute in and be all, “this is you how do things sons.” Needs to be more organic than that. Clayton Richard becomes important in that framework. Randal Grichuk. Luke Maile. And it’s really going to be up to the coaches, and to the kids who remain.

Ben Nicholson-Smith (@bnicholsonsmith):
Ideally yes, but it depends on what role they play. When the Blue Jays traded Kendrys Morales earlier this year we saw the front office prioritize playing time for young players over veterans, even well-respected ones like Morales. That’s the way it should be on a rebuilding team.

At the same time, the Blue Jays probably won’t have young players ready for all 25 roster spots this summer. Under those circumstances, it makes all kinds of sense to fill the gaps with veterans who can hold their own the field while offering professionalism off of it.

Mike Wilner (@Wilnerness590):
It feels like that would be the right thing to do, but I’m not convinced it’s necessary. A lot of the young players have won championships together in the minor leagues, they know how good they can be, and since two of them have fathers in the Hall of Fame, they know about big-league life and how tough it can be, as well.

That’s not to say that I think that by August this is going to be Guerrero, Biggio and Bichette’s team, but I just don’t know how necessary it is to have a respected veteran just to have one. A guy who rarely plays, like DeRosa and like Henry Blanco, isn’t going to have a major impact on the room. If they move all the vets, it’ll be up to the coaching staff to guide the young guys through the trying times. But there’s always Edwin Jackson and Eric Sogard, two very respected veterans.

2. Bo Bichette has looked good at Dunedin on his rehab assignment. Given Freddy Galvis is likely to remain a person of interest for contending teams, what do you think the chances are that Bichette is in the majors prior to July 31?

Jeff Blair (@SNJeffBlair):
Probably 100 per cent.

Arden Zwelling (@ArdenZwelling):
Pretty strong, assuming he’s back to full health and producing. The Blue Jays would likely have to move on from one of Freddy Galvis or Eric Sogard to free up a roster spot and playing time, and here’s hoping that those two veterans who’ve given a lot to this team land on their feet with regular MLB jobs elsewhere.

Shi Davidi (@ShiDavidi):
Once he has a really strong extended stretch, two or three really strong weeks on both sides of the ball, he’s here. So, whenever that happens.

Ben Nicholson-Smith (@bnicholsonsmith):
Honestly his chances don’t look bad. If Bichette can play to his potential over the next month, he’ll start forcing the Blue Jays’ hand. While questions about defence and routines lingered around Vladimir Guerrero Jr. before his debut, those same questions don’t exist to nearly the same extent for Bichette.

Galvis is a factor worth considering, though. Quite understandably Charlie Montoyo loves what the veteran shortstop brings. It’s really hard to see the Blue Jays benching Galvis or moving him off shortstop, but an injury or trade would create a path to the majors for Bichette–potentially as soon as next month.

Mike Wilner (@Wilnerness590):
A couple of weeks ago, I would have said the chances are pretty low, but after talking to a few people over the past fortnight, I have turned around on that. It would not surprise me at all if Bo Bichette joined the team out of the all-star break.

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3. As Ben reported last week, Ross Atkins recently received a contract extension from the Blue Jays. How would you asses Atkins’ overall performance to date? (Please include a letter grade).

Jeff Blair (@SNJeffBlair):
This is a tough call, because I’m not sure we really know what percentage of involvement Mark Shapiro has in significant decisions. The largest issue I have is the manner in which the Blue Jays sat on the sidelines in the mid to lower-level free agent markets. This group seems to have less concern about risk than any other front office we’ve seen and I don’t know if that’s organizational or Atkins specific. Player development seems OK … but again, how much is that on the G.M.? With the best available information, I’d go C-minus or D-plus.

Arden Zwelling (@ArdenZwelling):
Considering how collaborative MLB front offices are these days when it comes to decision-making, I don’t think it’s useful to assign all the credit or blame for any particular success or failure to one individual. It’s really a collective effort. And it’s very difficult to evaluate how this front office group has performed until we learn how they put the finishing touches on this rebuild — and whether or not they ultimately build a contender.

While they’ve made some clever maneuvers to add young, major-league talent to the organization — Trent Thornton, Teoscar Hernandez, Randal Grichuk — none of those players are franchise cornerstones. And while some of this group’s free agent contracts haven’t worked out well at all — Kendrys Morales, Jaime Garcia, Mat Latos — none of them have been albatrosses the organization couldn’t pay its way out of. The prospect capital the group has accrued, and robust development system its established, are certainly promising. But we won’t know whether or not it will pay off until a couple seasons from now. If those prospects turn into productive MLB regulars, or if they’re used to trade for established, impact big-leaguers, it’s a success. If the majority of them don’t turn out, or the Blue Jays target the wrong players in trade, it’ll be a failure.

We can’t adequately evaluate this front office’s performance until we learn what happens in the next few seasons. So, the grade I’d assign now is: incomplete.

Shi Davidi (@ShiDavidi):
Atkins got a one-year extension which is essentially an incomplete grade since there’s not much point in a one-year unless you’re kicking the can down the road. I’ll kick the can down the road on a grade as well with an incomplete, because we won’t know for certain until we get a sense of how some of drafts have gone.

The good: Getting Liriano for Hutchison in ’16 and then turning Liriano into Hernandez; the deals for Diaz and Grichuk, and subsequently flipping Diaz for Thornton; signing Lourdes Gurriel Jr.

The bad: Not re-signing Encarnacion; signing Morales, Pearce, the second Estrada extension, Garcia; being too toe-in-the-water on Donaldson by not really bolstering roster around him and not trading him before ‘18.

We’ll see on: The Grichuk extension; first-rounders Zeuch, Warmoth, Pearson, Groshans and now Manoah; the process behind which they’re handing out playing time; Montoyo and this coaching staff. At lot of the decisions were rooted in inheriting a win-now club coming off an AL East title in ’15 and then making cautious investments around that group to be able to unravel that if needed. That direction comes from president and CEO Mark Shapiro, Atkins is simply executing that plan.

Ben Nicholson-Smith (@bnicholsonsmith):
Clearly his work is incomplete partway through a rebuilding cycle. They’ve torn down. Now they have to build back up. Until we see what that looks like, we’re dealing with partial information.

With that said, we have seen this front office at work for years. Deals for Kendrys Morales and Jaime Garcia were missteps while the returns for J.A. Happ and Josh Donaldson now look light.

On the other hand, Atkins built a farm system that’s objectively one of baseball’s best. That counts for something, even if those results haven’t translated to big-league wins yet. Really this is incomplete until we see where Atkins finds pitching and which free agents he targets when the Jays are ready to spend. Until then, I’ll go with B-

Mike Wilner (@Wilnerness590):
Can I give him an “I” for incomplete? I think the main reason Atkins was given the extension is that the job he was brought in to do isn’t finished yet, and he deserves the chance to see it through.

You can fault him for messing up the Edwin Encarnacion departure, though I believe that’s just as much — if not more — on Edwin’s people. I don’t blame him for hanging onto Josh Donaldson a few months too long, I thought it was a good gamble to keep him at the time. Who knew Sam Gaviglio wound wind up second on the team in starts and innings pitched? And that Oakland had a 97-win season in them? He couldn’t get anything for Troy Tulowitzki and Russell Martin, but no one could have. However, if there’s a trade of Stroman or Giles, Atkins has to do better than he did for J.A. Happ.

4. Asssuming Ken Giles’ elbow inflammation doesn’t become anything more serious, how much of an impact do you think the injury will have on his trade value?

Jeff Blair (@SNJeffBlair):
If he comes back and hits 98-100 it won’t matter. Too many 94s and 95s and they’re screwed.

Arden Zwelling (@ArdenZwelling):
Provided he returns in short order, demonstrates the same velocity he had prior to the IL stint, and pitches effectively on back-to-back days, I don’t think there will be much impact at all.

Shi Davidi (@ShiDavidi):
I talked to a scout from a contending club about this and his take: you’re going to wonder what you’re buying, but there’s enough time for him to show you it’s a blip. Still, elbow inflammation is the stuff that makes teams wary, so there will be a pretty thorough look at his medicals by any interested clubs. Working in the Blue Jays’ favour is right now, the market seems light on impact relievers.

Ben Nicholson-Smith (@bnicholsonsmith):
If the injury’s not serious then Giles will return before long, allowing him to build on an impressive first two months. Under those circumstances, 10 days on the sidelines wouldn’t seriously impact his trade value and the Blue Jays would still be able to demand a significant return for their closer. If this lingers much longer than 10 days, however, that equation could change pretty quickly.

Mike Wilner (@Wilnerness590):
Not much at all. It’s the first time Giles has ever been on the Injured List, and if he comes back in the minimum seven days as he expects to, and continues to dominate hitters the way he did the first two-plus months of the season, he should be a very highly sought-after commodity. Giles may wind up bringing back the Blue Jays the best return of any trades they make over the next six weeks.

5. With Father’s Day on Sunday, which current MLB player would you like to see produce a son who reaches the majors someday and why?

Jeff Blair (@SNJeffBlair):
Vladimir Guerrero, Jr., just so I could call him Vlady Three. Plus it would mean I’d almost made it into my 80s, and thus have cheated the Grim Reaper far longer than I envisioned.

Arden Zwelling (@ArdenZwelling):
Can I say Adrian Beltre? I miss him dearly. As for current players, give me Javy Baez Jr. pimping home runs, running the bases like a madman, making acrobatic plays up the middle, and infuriating killjoys just like his father does.

Shi Davidi (@ShiDavidi):
Max Muncy because I want more players who drop one liners like, go get it out of the ocean.

Ben Nicholson-Smith (@bnicholsonsmith):
I can’t wait to watch the team that has Mike Trout Jr. batting second and Vladimir Guerrero III hitting third.

Mike Wilner (@Wilnerness590):
I mean, if Vladimir Guerrero’s genetic material could produce Vladimir Guerrero, Jr., I would be very interested to see just how good Vladimir Guerrero Jr. Jr. might be. I’m sure we all want to see what Mike Trout’s progeny would be able to do on the baseball field as well, but I’m going to go with Evan Longoria here. Not just for his half of the chromosomal cocktail, which would contain some serious baseball genes, but also because his wife, Jaime Edmondson, finished second on The Amazing Race and was a Miami Dolphins cheerleader. That’s two really good athletes making a baby who may well get the best of both parents’ abilities.

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