Blue Jays general manager Ross Atkins discussed some of his team’s offseason plans in an end-of-season chat with reporters (including the Athletic’s John Lott, and Sportsnet.ca’s Shi Davidi and Ben Nicholson-Smith) on Tuesday. Some of the highlights…
- The team has been in contact with a few managerial candidates already, though the Jays are still “gathering information” on their list of candidates, Atkins said. Initial phone interviews with 10 or more candidates will begin within the week, with a final field of around five candidates then selected for in-person interviews with various members of the Jays organization. The connection between the manager and the franchise as a whole is an important factor, as Atkins describes his ideal hire as possessing an “understanding what it takes for communication to keep not just [a] 25-man roster, but also the 40-man roster, the 200 minor-league players, the 100-plus scouts, the 100-plus coaches and medical staff people pulling in one direction and feeling connected. That person has to be an organizational leader and spokesperson, not just a leader of the 25-man clubhouse.”
- Bench coach DeMarlo Hale and Double-A manager John Schneider are two of the in-house candidates, and it seems as if the Blue Jays are leaning towards people with some type of managing or coaching background. The new Jays manager “will have experience leading,” Atkins said. “That is something extremely important for us.” The new manager must also be adept at requesting and interpreting the available analytical information, with Atkins specifying that while the manager (and not the front office) will still handle all in-game decision-making. Beyond these requirements, the Blue Jays will “cast as big a net as time and bandwidth can handle” in looking for a new manager, Atkins said.
- The Jays will be open to re-signing Marco Estrada or possibly bringing back J.A. Happ, who was dealt to the Yankees at the trade deadline. Atkins said that Toronto will first focus on the trade market before looking at free agents, however, and “We’d be looking for complementary pieces, and I think the focus would be slightly more short-term.” This would seem to count out a pursuit of Happ, who wouldn’t require a long contract (he turns 36 later this month), but his solid performance will likely price him out of the Jays’ range.
- There will be a focus on adding arms to the organization, with Atkins noting “we need to turn some of our position-player depth into pitching. That doesn’t mean we won’t trade from our young core or guys that haven’t even gotten to the major leagues.” Some of the names on the move could be prospects who are eligible for the Rule 5 Draft, as the Jays have a 40-man roster crunch forthcoming and not everyone can be protected. As it is, Atkins expects to lose at least one player in the Rule 5 Draft in December.
- Beyond pitching, Atkins said Toronto will also prioritize improving the team’s poor defense and baserunning.
- After Troy Tulowitzki spent the entire 2018 season on the disabled list, Atkins said that the veteran shortstop’s status for 2019 “starts with health.” When asked if Tulowitzki can still be an everyday player amidst the Jays’ younger infield options, Atkins answered “If Tulo’s healthy and performing at a very high rate, then yes. If he’s healthy and his performance isn’t to the calibre that major-league environments demand, then no.” Tulowitzki has been adamant about remaining at shortstop, though it remains to be seen if he can handle any position at all given his lengthy injury history over the years; in addition to missing 2018, Tulowitzki averaged just 98 games a season from 2012-17. Obviously Tulowitzki has virtually no trade value in the wake of his lost year, so the Jays might have to consider releasing him and eating the $38MM still owed to him through 2020.