Oh boy. Ross Atkins gave a press conference this morning and it was followed by a lot of online anger from the Blue Jays fanbase.
I think we’ve seen this before.
On one hand, I empathize with Atkins: having gone through a heartbreaking early exit from the postseason then failing at signing Shohei Ohtani after some unexpected hype, there is little he could have said this morning that would not have infuriated fans. On the other, one would expect that a major league general manager going into his ninth season in the role would be able to find a way to communicate his thoughts without causing fury.
- After adding Isiah Kiner-Falefa and re-signing Kevin Kiermaier, the Blue Jays are still looking to add bats. How many? It could be one or two, but “it’s closer to one,” Atkins said. (So temper your expectations, fans!)
- Atkins added that the added bat will likely be an outfielder or a designated hitter. (As they currently have 12 infielders on the 40-man roster.)
- This means that Toronto may have their third base situation settled, with Kiner-Falefa, Cavan Biggio, and Santiago Espinal taking the position in 2024.
- The lacklustre bats of 2023 was believed to have been “a blip,” and Atkins is confident that they would bounce back this season.
- Ohtani’s visit to Dunedin was confirmed.
While Atkins may actually have confidence in a bounce back season for Vladimir Guerrero Jr., Alejandro Kirk, and George Springer (and a better-than-awful season for Daulton Varsho), I don’t think the fans share it. The message from this press conference—that the Blue Jays are just “closer to one” player away from their lineup—certainly doesn’t help to compel people to buy tickets that are certainly pricier than what they paid for last year.
Sure, I think Guerrero, Kirk, Springer, and Varsho will more than likely have a better 2024 than 2023, but would the magnitude of that improvement be large enough to counter and exceed the losses of Brandon Belt and Matt Chapman, the negative regression of Kiermaier and Davis Schneider? Other than poor Danny Jansen, the Blue Jays were also exceptionally healthy last season; we cannot expect the same for a second season in a row especially with Kiermaier and Springer.
Perhaps we should not take Atkins’ words at face value. Perhaps this is just posturing—the front office is, presumably, in negotiations with free agents—but I also don’t know if baseball agents take these public comments to heart. But fans do. And Toronto fans are not happy about the direction this team is going a month or so ahead of spring training.
One of the more positive bits of news from Atkins this morning was that 2015 International League Most Valuable Player and Buffalo Baseball Hall of Fame inductee Matt Hague is now an assistant hitting coach for the big league club.
Hague, 38, will be entering his fifth year with the franchise after he retired as a player in 2018. He was hired in 2019 as a pro scouting fellow with a focus in swing mechanics and later became a swing consultant for the Blue Jays player development division. He was the hitting coach with the double-A Fisher Cats in 2021 and 2022 and served in the same role with the triple-A Bisons in 2023. Hague’s specialization in swing mechanics was pivotal to the emergence of Davis Schneider in Buffalo, adding a toe tap to help him add bat speed.
Hague was drafted by the Pirates in 2008 and had a couple of cups of coffee in Pittsburgh in 2012 and 2014 and was a September call up to the Blue Jays in his 2015 MVP year.
He is also one of six Blue Jays players with surname that is the same as a capital city:
- Miguel Cairo
- Matt Hague
- Joey Hamilton
- Steve Nicosia
- Benito Santiago
- Mike Stanley
Trivia question: Can you name the countries or dependent territories whose capitals were listed in bold above?