What Ross Atkins’ comments tell us about Blue Jays’ next moves

Ross Atkins speaks to the media about the Blue Jays not being where they want to be but sees encouraging signs despite a heightened sense of urgency.

TORONTO – The morning after the 24th loss of the Toronto Blue Jays‘ season, Ross Atkins stood on the field at Rogers Centre and fielded some questions about what’s next.

At 19-24, the Blue Jays are in some trouble. With 119 games remaining, they’re not fully out of contention, but only the Chicago White Sox have scored fewer runs this season and no team has seen its playoff odds drop more since opening day.

Entering play Saturday, the Blue Jays were last in the American League East with just a 20.3 per cent chance of reaching the playoffs. If their season keeps unfolding like this, they’ll be summer sellers, listening on pending free agents like Yimi Garcia and Yusei Kikuchi. But here on May 18, Atkins continued expressing optimism about his team.

“We believe in this talent,” the GM said. “There is time left, but there’s a massive sense of urgency and we need to get it turned around soon.”

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Atkins pointed to “some encouraging things” he’s seen including “the compete, the fight, the no roll-over” from Blue Jays hitters and the lineup’s ability to get into advantage counts. He also spoke highly of a group of triple-A players, naming Orelvis Martinez, Addison Barger, Spencer Horwitz, Nathan Lukes, Will Robertson, Steward Berroa and Leo Jimenez, and said the Blue Jays are interested in adding via trade.

But for now, Atkins said there’s no concern this group of players simply lacks talent.

“We’re not there.” 

Whether you find Atkins’ assessment of the Blue Jays unsurprising, infuriating or somewhere in between, this team is clearly headed for change. Ideally, the change comes with wins – and soon. Yet other, more disruptive, possibilities exist, too. While there’s no need to concede defeat now, there’s a real chance the Blue Jays will face a difficult pivot at some point this summer.

In the meantime, though, there are still some moves to consider. Relatively small ones like finally bumping George Springer out of the leadoff spot for Davis Schneider Saturday – or larger ones, like role changes, prospect promotions and trades.

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“We’re at the quarter pole and once you get to the halfway mark, there’s not much you can do if the whole (picture) remains the same,” Atkins said. “We’ll see. You always are prepared for any angle or any pivot that you have to make.”

The simplest pivot of all would consist of calling up a player from triple-A, but with the exception of a brief cameo for Barger, that hasn’t happened yet. Instead, the Blue Jays have stuck with Daniel Vogelbach despite his .395 OPS, reasoning that he’s capable of more than he’s shown and better-suited to the challenges of a part-time role than a hitter like Horwitz, someone they want getting regular at-bats.

So while Atkins mentioned the organization’s triple-A bats on multiple occasions Saturday morning, the preference seems to be keeping them in the minors until more regular playing time opens up. An injury could create an opening at any time, and there’s another possibility, too. Should the offensive struggles of Kevin Kiermaier and Springer continue, it’s conceivable that the Blue Jays could start them less often, creating playing time for a younger bat around the diamond.

With that in mind, the defensive development of Horwitz (showing early progress at second base) and Martinez (continued progress at second, some work at third) is worth watching. But while those prospects could help the big-league team this summer, it won’t matter if the likes of Springer and Bo Bichette can’t produce more.

Alongside the possibility of a prospect promotion, the Blue Jays are also considering deals, according to Atkins. In theory, they could trade away one of the aforementioned minor-leaguers for a hitter – ideally someone who bats from the left side.

“If we were to acquire a player at this point, you obviously are paying a premium. We can do that. We have the players to trade for that level of talent,” Atkins said. “We (presently) feel that the best contributions that could create that change in run scoring are going to come from within our clubhouse or triple-A, with the players that are here. But the dialogue is steady on the alternatives that that could happen.”

So for now, the Blue Jays are buyers – technically. They’re looking at the market with hitters as their priority. But trades are rarely completed this time of year and those that do get across the finish line typically see the buyer paying a steep price, as the Padres did for Luis Arraez. 

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A case could be made that the Blue Jays need a hitter at any cost, yet there’s a compelling counterargument, too: is this group worthy of mortgaging the future? Regardless, the final buy-sell decision doesn’t have to be made for another couple of months, and if the standings clearly tell the Blue Jays they’re out of it, they’ll do what any rational front office would: start selling.

Kikuchi and Garcia might be among the most coveted pitchers available in that scenario, while pending free agents like Kiermaier, Justin Turner and Danny Jansen could also draw interest. One scenario that’s not presently in consideration for the Blue Jays: a major shake-up that would see them blow things up for 2025 and beyond.

Of course, for now, Atkins still holds onto hope that this season can still deliver on the promise it once seemed to hold. With four-plus months to go, time is on their side – yet time matters more if you have the talent to make the most of it. Whether the Blue Jays do is very much an open question.

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