Ross Atkins is putting up a brave front.
But Atkins is embracing the optimism of Opening Day, when every team is still in first place. He acknowledges this is a young team, but promises it will be an exciting one.
“For 10 players, this is their first Opening Day,” Atkins told CBC’s Metro Morning.
Don’t look for any big names on the Opening Day roster. Some familiar names like Justin Smoak and Marcus Stroman remain from last year, but this year’s focus will be on developing the team’s young stars, like Bo Bichette, who starred in Spring Training, and, of course, Vladimir Guerrero Jr., who is expected to join the club sometime after mid-April.
For now, the roster is mostly a collection of middling players and question marks. Still, Atkins won’t call it a rebuilding year.
“There’s so much randomness in this game to put timelines on things,” Atkins said. “We’ve been through some rough patches so we feel like there’s a lot of good things ahead.”
The Blue Jays’ history has been one of extreme highs and painful lows. A near decade of sustained success culminated with back-to-back World Series wins in 1992 and 1993. The team then wandered in the baseball wilderness for nearly a quarter century, compiling one disappointing season after another. Fans were given a fleeting taste of success in 2015 and 2016 when the team reached two straight American League Championship Series.
But those seasons seem like long ago. The last two years have seen the Jays return to their familiar spot behind the powerful Yankees and Red Sox in the AL East.
Not looking for quick fixes
It appears another stretch of wilderness is ahead. But Atkins says this time it’s different and is asking Blue Jay fans for patience. Again.
The Blue Jays have one the highest-rated farm systems in baseball and Atkins says fans are starting to see the dividends.
“I come back to thinking about how exciting it’s going to be with this young core and it’ll just really come down to a couple of things. And then just how quickly these players can transition.”
Atkins understands Jays fans may look at all of the money being lavished on big-name stars by other teams and say, why not us?
He says this team isn’t looking for quick fixes.
“In order to do that we would have had to trade away our young prospects to compete with the New York Yankees and Boston Red Sox, and doing that we didn’t feel was best for the organization,” Atkins says. “We feel patience will end up paying much bigger dividends than short-term excitement.”
The Jays are currently in the bottom third of the league when it comes to payroll. At the same time, Atkins says when the time is right, the Jays will be willing to spend again.
“The commitment from [team owner] Rogers is as strong as it could be,” Atkins says. “We are going to have plenty of money and we are going to be spending at elite levels.”
Something for fans to look forward to. Just maybe not this season.