Atkins says Blue Jays’ organizational changes a result of pandemic hardship

Toronto Blue Jays general manager Ross Atkins speaks about the infectious confidence and resilience from the young stars on the Blue Jays.

TORONTO – Ross Atkins says restructuring the Toronto Blue Jays’ five special assistant positions, including one held by Hall of Famer Roberto Alomar, is a by-product of financial hardship caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, and that all are welcome to remain at a lower pay rate.

Alomar, his father Sandy, fellow Hall of Famer Tim Raines, Pat Hentgen and Paul Quantrill were all impacted by wider organizational changes that hit Thursday hours before the club clinched a post-season berth.

All five performed a variety of tasks for the Blue Jays, from attending events in the community to helping groom young players in the farm system. Their full-time positions were eliminated and the club is said to have offered them part-time spots instead.

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Where things stand with them wasn’t immediately clear, although Atkins called them “incredible,” and praised “the impact and influence they’ve had long before I was here on so many different players, and obviously on the fan base and just to this organization, what they’ve meant, I think the world of all of them.”

“Really, the way that we view it is they’re helping us transition through a pandemic and through a financial hardship and through a minor-league restructure,” he continued. “We would love to have them here, to continue to be here. They will be compensated very differently. They will always be welcome. And our hope is that we look up a year from now or maybe two years from now, and they’re back into similar, if not similar, even more significant roles with us.”

All five have been with the organization for years, with Alomar among the franchise’s most recognizable figures and Hentgen part of the organizational fibre. Other clubs in the past have asked about Hentgen’s availability but he was never interested, fully committing his heart to the Blue Jays.

“A thousand per cent,” said one scout from a rival club. “All the players love him.”

The changes didn’t stop at the special assistants. The Blue Jays are also parting with triple-A manager Ken Huckaby, pitching rehab co-ordinator David Aardsma, pitching rehab coach Darold Knowles, and perhaps others. More changes are expected, too.

“Going through a pandemic with what that has meant for the industry financially, what it’s meant for the Toronto Blue Jays financially, then having a minor-league restructuring process in the industry where we’re going to all but certainly be operating with two less teams, and a significantly less number of players, it would have been irresponsible us not to think about how we could operate more efficiently,” said Atkins. “Any business has had to do that, and it would be very difficult not to.

“At least in our view, felt like it was something we had to do. As it relates to Ken, and specifically as we thought about how we could be more efficient, we had to decrease the overall number of leaders in our organization.

“It was more just circumstance. He has certainly done great things for us and will continue to do great things in baseball. He’s had a significant impact here. I feel strongly about the person, the character, his contributions, just a very tough decision that we had to make.”

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Atkins added that Huckaby’s replacement as manager of the triple-A Bisons “will definitely be an internal candidate.”

The reduction of two minor-league teams Atkins mentioned is part of a wider Major League Baseball plan to streamline the minor leagues, triggering significant tumult among owners of teams on the chopping block.

Last November, in a list published by Baseball America of 42 teams proposed for removal from the affiliated minor-leagues, the only Blue Jays affiliate mentioned was rookie-ball Bluefield.

Their other affiliates are: triple-A Buffalo, double-A New Hampshire, advanced-A Dunedin, low-A Lansing, short-season Vancouver, the rookie GCL Blue Jays, and Dominican Summer League Blue Jays.

The draft was reduced to only five rounds this year and industry speculation is that next year’s draft will be pushed back to July and perhaps reduced to 20 rounds from the usual 40.

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