Atkins speaks!: The end of 2021

On a disappointing end to the season, off-season plans, payroll, prospects, the coaching staff, Ray, Semien, extension possibilities, the bullpen, third base, Pearson, Ryu, the CBA, and much more!

Jays GM Ross Atkins had his end-of-season sit-down with the media on Wednesday via Zoom. So let’s talk about it!

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Ross Atkins had his annual post-mortem on Wednesday, a little earlier in the month than anyone expected or wanted. But what it produced was a wide-ranging conversation with members of the local media on all aspects of his job as the GM of the Toronto Blue Jays and where the team is headed as a pivotal off-season in this era of the franchise gets underway.

Normally this is where I’d say that these are the highlights, but you’ll find no highlights here. Apart for a couple questions that I’ve removed because the answers were redundant or went nowhere, this is the whole darn thing. A transcript of each answer that Atkins gave, with my commentary below.

Enjoy!

Is there a sense of urgency about this off-season?

It just keeps getting a little bit more exciting for us, I think. Hopefully for the fan base as well. Certainly internally, and speaking or our players as well. The sentiment amongst our clubhouse and amongst our staff, and certainly in our front office, is exceptionally optimistic about where this team is headed, and excited about this off-season for us and the potential to continue to build upon the progress that has been made. Obviously we're not where we want to be yet. We need to be playing deep into the playoffs to take that next step, but we do feel like the organization has continued to get better and improve, and we're in a better position than we were a year ago as we go into this off-season.

OK, so we've started on a fairly expected note. The team was good, they're not where they want to be, there's excitement for the opportunity ahead. I think what most fans would probably want to point out here, though, is that while it's undoubtedly true that the team right now is better positioned than they were a year ago, they're also not nearly as good as they were a week ago! That's kind of incredibly important. The 2022 Jays will need to get to where the Rays and the Yankees and the Red Sox are, yes. But even just getting back to where the 2021 Jays are will be hard without 14 WAR (per Baseball-Reference) in the form of Robbie Ray and Marcus Semien.

It sure would be a lot easier to swallow merely being better than they were this time a year ago if they had more to show for the season that just ended!

How do you identify priorities?

Well, I mean. You know, really it's, we don't want to paint ourselves into boxes. We're 48 hours into our off-season now and want to make sure that we keep all avenues for creativity open, and that's what we're focused on now. How do we continue to make this organization as good as it can be? What additions can we make in the short-term and long-term? What are the best possible, the most creative ways to do that?

Here's the start of what will be a theme throughout this piece. As you’ll see below, Atkins definitely says the right things about Robbie Ray and Marcus Semien. There's genuine interest there, I think. But he's certainly not trying to give anyone the impression that they're going to be an absolute priority.

I wrote about this several weeks ago, but I think that the team very likely can make the financial pieces fit to run back the 2021 version of this team for the next few years. I get the sense that they don't think that's the smartest path forward based on the presumed prices Ray and Semien are going to command. They don't want to paint themselves into boxes, as he says, and that's exactly what giving something like $300 million to those two likely would do — especially given the dollars still owed to George Springer and Hyun Jin Ryu, with higher salaries for Vladimir Guerrero Jr., Bo Bichette, Teoscar Hernández, etc. on the way.

Plus José Berríos! The Jays gave up a lot for two shots at the playoffs with him, and just missed out on the first one. I don't think you try as hard as possible to extend him just because it makes you feel better about what you gave up — there are plenty of reasons to extend him for his own sake — but I think he's a guy they very much would like to lock up. And because of age, track record, and the fact that an extension with Berríos would be easier to structure so that his salary doesn't really go up until Ryu is off the books, he feels like a much likelier guy to get a big cheque from Rogers this winter than Ray is.

Then again, why not both?

Are there areas — defence, pitching, offence — that you'll be focusing on this winter?

As we think about it from a starting standpoint, as I briefly mentioned to Rob, we feel as though our organization is in a very good position. And in a better position than we were starting last off-season. As we think about complementing Hyun Jin Ryu, now we have Berríos. And Alek Manoah, Nate Pearson, Ross Stripling, as a starting point, is a good place to be.

One of the biggest developments of the year, I think, for us, is just having two of the best players in the game in Bo Bichette and Vlad Guerrero. They were projected to be that a year ago, and this year they were that. Just remarkable what they've accomplished. So that's a really good starting point. And as we think about complementing our infield and continuing to make our rotation better we feel that there's opportunities this off-season via free agency and trade to do that.

I don't want to characterize it as though the front office has already moved on from Ray (or Semien), but like I say, they're definitely looking forward and not dwelling on what could have been this season. Probably smart! But if it works out that neither of those guys are back, a lot of fans are going to be disappointed — and understandably so.

They'll definitely do something. They're not going to sit idle with a ton of money coming off the books and Vlad and Bo providing as much value per dollar as just about any tandem in the game. The just might not get as sentimental about it as we'd like.

Where is the organization in terms of payroll and prospect capital?

I think on both fronts we're in a really good position. The scouting department, player development, performance — all scouting departments have done an incredible job to ensure that we continue to have talent from within to complement this team. And if we have to make trades that we have the talent to do that as well.

And Mark has done an incredible job of communicating with Rogers — and all of the stakeholders that ultimately support us in the most significant way — of helping them understand our plan. From six years ago, to six months ago, and now six weeks ago. And each step of the way making ownership a part of that process to ensure that we are doing everything in our power to have the most support possible.

Whether or not the farm system is actually a great source of "prospect capital" at the moment came up again later, so I won't belabour it here. Though I do kind of wonder if part of the calculation here is that the Jays will be getting a couple compensation picks in the next draft. *COUGH*

The payroll stuff is boilerplate at this stage, but it's at least night and day compared to the rather adversarial relationship that seemed to exist between the Jays and the ninth floor at 1 Mount Pleasant back in the Beeston era. These guys have been putting their money where their mouth is for a couple years now, and as weird as it is to feel confident that dollars are going to be there for the Blue Jays this winter, I don't know how you feel anything else.

Again, that may not mean dollars for Ray and Semien, but if that's how it plays out I think that will be the front office's choice, not ownership's.

What kind of hitters do you think will complement the existing group?

I think the obvious one is that we were a little bit right-handed. You saw, even just when Dickerson was having good at-bats, and when Cavan Biggio came into the lineup — it's not just that they're left-handed, but how we are attacked, and potentially the pitchers that are used is different. And then secondarily, I think, we feel it's important to have balance and not just the same type of hitters throughout, up and down your lineup. So, some players that are more batting average driven, and some players that are more on-base driven with plate discipline. I think having both is exceptionally powerful. And having a combination of all those things is ultimately, I think, what we're striving to do.

The "late and close" narrative definitely got a little bit quieter at the end of the season, as the Jays surged through the start of September and re-wrote what a lot of people thought about them. But Atkins is right to still be a little bit concerned about this. 

Of the ten teams with the best wRC+ in baseball over the full 2021 season, only the stupid Washington Nationals had a bigger negative difference between their overall wRC+ and their wRC+ in high leverage situations. Washington was a 101 wRC+ team a normal times, and a 71 wRC+ in high leverage. The Jays' difference was -9, going from a 112 wRC+ team overall to a 103 wRC+ team in high leverage situation spots. 

This is definitely a noisy, imperfect way to look at it. Clutch plays exist, but it's proven significantly more difficult to definitively say that clutch players or teams that can do it year in and year out do. Still, the fact that the Giants were +8 in high leverage situations, the Yankees were +9, and the Mariners were an absurd +42 (93 wRC+ overall, 135 wRC+ in high leverage) tells me that anything a team can do to move the needle here is probably a good idea.

What do you expect the conversations with Ray and Semien to look like once free agency begins?

One, as I said to them — each of them individually and together, actually — had a lot of time to spend with them over the last month, and much more on a personal level, to just learn from them, talk about how we can improve here, and congratulate them. And thanking them for us to be a small part of what will be, ultimately, an exceptional year for them in their careers. And I hope they go on to continue to, obviously, have those years year in and year out, and hopefully we can be a part of that.

But having been a part of it for one year was very fulfilling and gratifying. Not only for what it meant for wins and losses and our overall team performance, but also what it means for our environment to have guys come in and have such exceptional years like that. It says a lot to our coaching staff, it says a lot about our support staff, about our resources and facilities. And I think that will be exceptionally attractive to players moving forward.

I'm hardly the only person to have said before that the Jays might end up looking this winter to get the next Ray and Semien rather than pay a big premium for the current ones, but, uh, that certainly sounds a bit like that, doesn't it? There are worse things to be than a team that's "exceptionally attractive" to players looking to swoop into a great environment and make a bunch of money, but much like the way the Jays have chosen to build their bullpen with guys on cheaper, short-term deals, there is inherent risk in that approach.

Some years it will work out tremendously, some years it won’t. I guess if you believe in your core you can view those kinds of guys as merely complementary and just accept that their contributions will be fleeting, but it’s going to be tougher to get fans onto that page.

Do you expect to keep talking with them?

That dialogue will be constant, where we're talking about their interest, our interest, and hoping that they're aligned. 

I have absolutely no doubt that there is a price at which the Jays would love to have either of these guys back. And depending on how the rest of the market shapes up, they may even become willing to move that price higher. But for the moment, I suspect that what the Jays would like to pay and what Ray and Semien would like to receive aren't particularly close.

That said, it's not like there are other teams out there who are going to go out and blow them away on day one either! They all want to pay as little as possible, and this is all just part of the process. The Jays at least have shown both of them how great things can be in Toronto, which definitely can't hurt. 

Obviously it would be better if we were talking about the Jays getting these guys to sign before they even reached free agency officially, but I don't think this was ever going to go that way, unfortunately.

What are the odds of Ray, Semien, and Matz, individually or in combination, being Blue Jays again next year?

I think it bodes exceptionally well for us that we were a part of such significant years for all three of them — Steven Matz, as well, had an incredible year. and being a part of that, and having the team success, albeit not what we ultimately were striving for. I think how we finished, and finishing in this stadium on such a positive. (Again, not realizing our ultimate goal). All of those things bode exceptionally well for us as we strive to make our team better, and all three of them we have interest in.

Like I was saying!

How much are you upset to watch the Red Sox playing on and the Blue Jays not?

Mostly what I focus on is desire, and what we can do to ensure it doesn't happen again is how I view it, and how I watched every pitch (Tuesday) night. I wish all the best for those organizations, and for the Red Sox. I spend all my time and energy on thinking about how we can ensure that we are in those games next year.

Well, I'm glad at least someone is wishing the best for those organizations, because I sure as hell am not!

How do you feel about the bullpen?

The progress of Jordan Romano and Tim Mayza is what jumps out at me. I just can't say enough about those guys — really, in some points in the year, put some guys on their back and did some exceptional things. And they're so early in their careers to have done that, and that bodes exceptionally well for their futures. And then complementing them with Cimber and Richards really seemed to help stabilize things for us, to put other guys in more suitable positions to be successful. We definitely had a lot more depth in that area towards the end of the year.

So having a starting point of Romano, Mayza, Borucki, Cimber, Richards; depending on where things land with Merryweather; we're hopeful that Pearson will be someone that's more an extended outing — closer to a starter look for us; Stripling as one that could be in either role, is a great starting point. With depth in Triple-A. Some guys we're excited to add to our roster this year as well. But really I would be disappointed in myself if I didn't talk about Jordan Romano and Timmy Mayza and just the unbelievable years that they've had. Jordan Romano and his "gas ball" might be one of the — we had so many good baseball stories this year, I feel confident in saying I'm sure we made some baseball fans bigger fans this year, and feel confident in saying we may have created some baseball fans this year with the love and the passion that our team had for one another and how much joy and passion they had for the game and the sport and competing was certainly inspiring to me, and hopefully was to our fans.

Uhh... yeah, man. I probably wouldn't want to say very much about the bullpen beyond Romano and Mayza either!

Seriously, though, that group still feels pretty goddamn thin, considering the fact that the attrition rate for these guys is so absurdly high. The Rays had nine relievers that threw at least 20 innings and produced an ERA below 3.00 in 2021. The Jays had three. I don't know how you get from here to there, but I'm not sure how much it involves guys in Triple-A who weren't good enough to get a shot this year!

Wait, so do you see Pearson as a starter or a reliever?

As a starter, but we have to factor in workload, we have to factor in development, and doing what's best for him. So it's just too hard to say exactly what it will look like, but on the spectrum of things I hope it looks a lot more like a starter than a reliever. But we'll be open to all roles and all ways to have him help us win.

Will Pearson require surgery for his sports hernia, as was suggested as a possibility earlier in the summer?

He really felt good at the end of the season, so he — I think today he's getting an assessment with a doctor again to determine if that procedure's going to be needed or not. But he felt great at the end of the year, so we'll get a little bit more information before we make that determination.

So Pearson feels good, he looked great after he stopped tipping his pitches late in the season, and they're hoping he's a starter — or at least a multi-inning relief weapon, likely with a view to building him up to be a starter again next year?

How do you see the gap between the Blue Jays and the Rays?

It's interesting. We're different teams. I think that we are as talented and that we can certainly compete with them. I don't see a large gap. They've done an exceptional job of preventing runs over the years, and then this year they've just done a great job of scoring them as well. They have a little bit more team speed, we have a lot more power. Individually we had performances that I think, as these guys come together as a group and as a team and get some consistency in and around them, we're going to be right there with them. But we've got to continue to strive to be above them, not just right there with them. 

As frustrating as it always is to play the Rays, I don't think Atkins is wrong here that the Jays are closer than a lot of people think (and their 2021 records indicate). But it's very interesting how the Jays believe that culture can be a great leveller, whereas the stupid Rays would already be thinking about trading Vlad if they had him because he's going to be arbitration eligible a second time a year from now.

Man, I hope they can figure out how to beat those ghouls!

How important is it to blend older and younger talent?

I think we have it without (Ray and Semien) as well, with Hyun Jin Ryu and George Springer just to name a couple. But it is important, and that will be an arena that we can improve in in the free agency, and we will certainly be in it. And those two players we will certainly remain interested in.

Max Scherzer and José Ramírez would be a nice consolation prizes, wouldn't they? (Yes, I'm aware that Ramírez isn't a FA, but still! And if not Scherzer, how about maybe a Noah Syndergaard?)

How did the veterans impact the young core this season?

I could not be more pleased with how well that group gelled. And it's never perfect, and it takes time, but I think at the end of the year it was easy to see. You didn't have to be in the clubhouse to see it — that there is a very good dynamic in our dugout, and in our clubhouse. The starting pitchers walking in together, the group celebrating one another, to a man, for individual and team performances, and, as I said, how much joy and passion.

I think in many ways our young players made our veteran players better too. I don't think it was just one direction. It was a lot of fun, it was incredible energy for me to be around. As I said, it was inspiring to me, and I'm confident that we'll be able to continue to build upon it.

The 2021 Jays were fun! They were definitely a team you wanted to see continue to go on and compete through the rest of October. Fortunately, I definitely don't think the fun factor is something that's going to change anytime soon. 

Is the ability there to have another significant bump in payroll?

As I mentioned, that is our desire and that is our understanding. As we sit today we feel as though we will have the support. We've always had it, and Mark has done a remarkable job of just, every step of the way, sharing our vision, helping understand where our focus is, and giving rationale for why we want to do the things that we're trying to do. And we've always have that support and expect to have it moving forward.

No surprises here. Would be pretty weird to kneecap the team by not putting the tens of millions coming off the books back into payroll!

How do you balance improving the team in the short-term without taking on bad long-term money?

I think you have to be careful. I think that is a great question, Gregor, and you always have to be thinking about that. At the same time, it doesn't mean that we're not going to have another very significant deal with a lot of term to it, or maybe more than one, maybe more than two. But you always need to have that five- and six-year understanding, for what that means for the team and the organization five and six years ahead. 

It's definitely not in a GM's interest to go broadcasting to the world that he intends on spending big no matter what, but I think this is probably more sincere than that. I don't know how high the Jays' payroll can go ultimately, but extensions for Berríos, Teoscar, Bo, and Vlad have to be kept in mind, and definitely will! That's good, at least. But that backdrop is going to make this off-season fascinating — and potentially disappointing, with respect to Ray and Semien specifically.

Where do extensions for younger players fall on the priority list?

It's the kind of thing that never stops. We're always thinking about that. And we are motivated to keep not just our younger players, but players that have expiring contracts in the next year or two, to keep this group together. So, it's constant, and obviously not every individual is the same — as I mentioned — where they are in their careers. But the off-season does allow for, potentially — depending upon how things are transpiring, it will allow for just another opportunity where we can engage a little bit more specifically with our players, because it's not as stressful of a time.

I mean, this doesn't make me not think Berríos is probably a higher priority than Ray right now. Obviously we'll see. There's no need to make that an either/or kind of thing. But reading the tea leaves that's my guess.

Also reading the tea leaves: I wonder if the "not every individual is the same" comment might have something to do with the fact — or at least the perception — that as children of guys who made millions and millions playing this game, maybe Vlad and Bo just aren't going to be as inclined to get themselves locked up long-term as others. That they might be more interested in getting to free agency as young as they possibly can.

That would be fine, and would still allow the Jays to keep them around for longer than they're currently obligated, it would just look a little different than what they may be able to do with guys like Berríos and Teoscar this winter.

Is third base an spot where you'll look for an external solution or is the 2022 Blue Jays' third baseman already in the fold?

I think that we don't have to do it, but I think it's an area where we can. So, between Cavan Biggio, Santiago Espinal. Breyvic Valera did a great job, Kevin Smith is an exceptional defender and had a remarkable year in Triple-A. There are ways for us to field teams without signing a third baseman, but it is an area that we will obviously be thinking about in free agency and trade.

Atkins is right that they do have some halfway decent third base options, and I don't think it would be a problem if they chose to improve the team in other ways if those opportunities made more sense. But third base is there for the taking, especially with Semien not necessarily coming back to play second. So they absolutely should be looking for an upgrade!

I do, however, think one of those positions — third or second — can be absolutely fine with someone who is a little more of a glove-first guy than a bat-first one, much like the way the Jays of the previous era were able to use guys like Justin Smoak or Chris Colabello at first base because they were getting such gargantuan value at third out of Josh Donaldson. You can be a great team without following the traditional infield roles all that rigidly, but one of those two spots will definitely require some firepower. *COUGH* José Ramírez *COUGH*

What did you see from Ryu this year, in his first non-shortened season with the club?

I love him. Yeah, I mean, he is an incredible athlete and an incredible professional. Exceptionally consistent. I love to watch his athleticism as a pitcher — it's remarkable to me to see what he's capable of from a command and execution standpoint, with some power to his pitches as well. His velocity was actually up higher at the end of the year than it was at the start. I love everything about him. He's a great teammate, he is incredibly respectful to all the stakeholders in the game, and really does set a nice tone for us.

Ryu is great! Impossible not to love. I'm not sure if I'd be talking up his velocity quite so much, but when he's on he's undeniably incredible, and it's nice to see that the Jays aren't thinking otherwise just yet.

Do you need to do more to manage Ryu's workload over the rest of his contract?

We would expect him to be able to do what he did this year and maybe even more. Now, what that means in terms of workload is so dependent upon just how he's feeling, physically. But it will be something that we work with him on, and work with him more closely, and ensure that we're communicating. He and Pete Walker have a great dynamic that way. And we'll make sure that he's a huge part of that process, if there are times that we need to pull back and potentially skip a start or have shorter outings from time to time, we'll be open to that.

Seems reasonable, and it wouldn't shock me at all if all that stuff was going on throughout 2020 and 2021 already — as in when he was "injured" for the minimum of 10 days there in September after a run of rough starts.

What could potentially help the Jays in that regard in 2022, I’d think, is if Nate Pearson ends up being more of a multi-inning relief guy for the year, rather than a full-on starter. You definitely wouldn’t feel quite so bad about bullpen days if you knew you could get three innings or more out of a guy like that.

Do you have any regrets from over the last year?

That's a tough one. I mean, there are small things, obviously, in hindsight that we could have done differently. Mostly, what I think about are just ways to improve, and ways that we can do things better. Doesn't seem too productive to focus on something that I potentially made the wrong choice on or the wrong decision. But I do, obviously, believe wholeheartedly in being humble and being accountable. And again, like I said, we're not where we want to be yet, but we are exceptionally proud of the players, of our staff, the work that they've done, how cohesive they've been, how collaborative our staff has been. We'll focus on trying to make that better and better.

OK, OK, sure. But if you really want to you could just say you should have gone for Ryan Tepera instead of Brad Hand. We all know, man.

What lessons have you learned from this season?

Well one, I for sure take away that we have improved. Our organization, our team has improved. The progress that we made offensively, defensively, from a pitching standpoint, is all better. It's all better. We finished stronger than we started, undoubtedly. Secondarily, as we strive to be the best place in sport to play baseball, the best place to come to work every day in professional sport, we've made progress in that area as well. And, you know, ultimately, we had to overcome some other challenges this year that not every team had. And our staff did a remarkable job of focusing on the controllables, and it was just one small challenge that we had that was just slightly different than the challenges that other teams have, but our staff and our players did an incredible job of focusing on the controllables. So, it's very difficult for me just to pinpoint one thing that I would do differently, or say what I've learned, because there's a lot that I would have done differently, and there's a lot of things that I've learned. It's not just one thing. We're always looking at our jobs that way, and we're always thinking about how we can improve and get better.

I don't think this is an especially exciting answer to that question, but it’s about as close as you’ll get to hearing someone from the Jays say that all the games in Dunedin and Buffalo probably made the difference between the playoffs or not. Which is true, though completely understandable why they try so hard not to make it an excuse.

I do also think what he’s saying here hits on something quite important that hasn't necessarily yet become part of the lore about this organization, and that's that they really are trying to make it a great place to work, and a place where players want to play. We saw that a couple weeks ago when Marcus Semien told Peter Gammons of the Athletic that Toronto is a "baseball paradise" and spoke about how clearly on the same page the team was with him when it came to providing resources to allow him to become the best player he can possibly be. That might not be all that it takes to bring him back to Toronto — it will take money, it will possibly take the ability to play at his favoured position, and it might even be out of the question because of geography. But that's at least something the Jays can build on and are building on, consciously.

It seems good! Then again, the Rays seem to be almost as anti-player as they are anti-fan and they keep having huge success regardless. I'd rather follow a team that's doing it the way the Jays are doing it, but the huge success would be pretty good too!

Vlad said he's love to keep the entire group together and that he'd like to do it with the same bunch of guys. Would you like to see that too?

Well, I can say this. If it were in our control and we could just hit "go" on keeping the same team, then all else being equal, that would be a decent start. And a decent place to be. But we just have to be open to ways to improve and ways to continue to get better. And that may include some combination of both of the things that you just mentioned. We certainly don't need wholesale changes, and we are open to a team that looks a lot like the team that we had at the end of the year.

Ahhh, so close to saying he'd definitely run it back if he could! And who could blame him, really? Getting the Blue Jays roster to look like it did at the end of the season surely wasn't easy. Getting the defence tightened up, and the bullpen working better, and the hitters out of their August funk? That must have been hard work and to see guys like Semien and Ray hitting free agency with not as much to show for it as anyone would like is probably an even bigger gut-punch to this front office than it is to the fans. Say what you will about some of their decisions, but it’s very evident that these guys want this team to be successful just as much as the fans do.

Do you already have guys in mind, like you did last year with Ray and Steven Matz, who you see undervalued potential in and may try to acquire?

We're building them now. We actually spend a lot of time thinking individually before we come together as a group. We've asked well over 30 very detailed, specific questions to our entire baseball operations group, for them to think individually about how we can improve the team. And then we'll bring those thoughts and ideas together, and discuss them. And come up with those lists and those targets that we feel make the most sense for everyone.

Not a lot of meat on this one in terms of what the team may end up doing this winter, but definitely an interesting peek behind the curtain here. Make the survey public you cowards!!

Are there plans for all the catching depth going forward, with Jansen, Kirk, McGuire, and now Moreno getting very close?

I can say this, that it's definitely an area where you feel good about having depth, because of the lack of free agents available, the lack of players via trade that are available, in that position. So having four guys that we feel could — you know, might be a little too quick and less than ideal for Gabriel Moreno — but already having three that we feel confident to catch in a major league game? Incredible progress by Alejandro Kirk and Reese McGuire, and the way that Jano finished the year, he finished one of the better catchers in the game. Those guys do a good job of working together too, and pulling for one another, balancing the playing time. So, it's a good starting point. I'm glad we have that depth there.

A little insight here about Moreno, who apparently the club isn't quite ready to anoint the 2022 starter. He'll play in the Arizona Fall League, which begins play next Wednesday and should be rather interesting to follow. But even more interesting this winter will be whether the Jays do anything to give him a clearer path to the majors.

This week Baseball America released its list of the top prospects in Double-A Northeast, and in the write-up for Moreno wrote that “one American League scout said Moreno was the best player he saw this year at any level and believed that Moreno would have been the Blue Jays’ regular catcher this season if he had stayed healthy.”

They also quoted a National League talent evaluator as saying: “The question isn’t if he’s going to get the big leagues or how good he’s going to be in the big leagues. It’s how many All-Star Games is he going to be in for the next 10 years.”

So yeah, that’s real.

I kind of also think, as intriguing as Alejandro Kirk is, that "Jano" is still very much the Blue Jays’ guy short-term — though he may have only preserved that status because of his strong finish to the season.

Will that make Kirk a trade chip this winter, and McGuire the guy who loses his place when Moreno is ready mid-year next year? It would be easy to say yes, especially in light of Atkins' comments about the dearth of available catchers in trade or via free agency this winter. But he's not wrong about depth being extremely valuable, too.

I don't think Kirk gets moved this winter unless it's for something pretty special. But I don't think that's exactly out of the question.

How do you feel about your prospect depth, considering really only Moreno and Orelvis Martinez had particularly noisy seasons on that front?

I actually feel really good. Jordan Groshans, Otto Lopez, Kevin Smith I already mentioned, Josh Palacios. All those guys being in Triple-A potentially, with Gabriel Moreno. And then very confident that Thomas Hatch and Anthony Kay are going to have better years than the ones they had. Zach Logue has had a remarkable year and will slide into that Triple-A rotation again for us. And then Nate Pearson is still a huge part of our depth and our potential, moving forward. So I feel like our farm system's in a decent spot. Our international department has done an incredible job of identifying players, and we've had a few good drafts, so. The trade, obviously, for Berríos was a hit to our farm system, but we feel that we've weathered it and we'll continue to acquire talent. We're excited about the draft of this year. And, really, I cant say enough about the acquisitions our international department has had.

I suppose there are teams that would be happy to get their hands on guys like Lopez and Smith and Palacios, but the "objective" side of the prospect industry that Mark Shapiro likes to point to surely won’t be as in love with the Jays’ system as a whole this winter as they have been in recent years. Graduating Pearson and Manoah and trading Austin Martin and Simeon Woods Richardson will do a thing like that. And Groshans, despite Atkins’ claim to the contrary, was more good than great in his first turn at Double-A this year. He needed a torrid final two weeks to move his slash line from .271/.354/.415 (which is where it was on August 15th) to the more respectable .291/.367/.450 mark he finished with.

There are probably still some diamonds in the rough that the public-facing side of the industry isn’t as high on yet as the Jays are, but if we’re talking about the guys needed to acquire high-end talent, I’m not sure I’m seeing it outside of Pearson, Kirk, Lourdes Gurriel Jr., and guys the Jays would probably want to move even less, like Moreno and Martinez.

Maybe that won’t be necessary and the Jays can just use their financial muscle to absorb dollars in trade and drive prospect costs down, or maybe they’ll simply spare the farm system this winter and be more active on the free agent market.

As I’ve mentioned a couple times already, I could definitely see them taking a run at José Ramírez though, but with two relatively cheap options left on his deal ($11 million for 2022, $13 million for 2023) and the Guardians having basically no other salary on their books, I doubt it will be nearly as painless as the deal the Mets made last winter to get Francisco Lindor out of Cleveland.

With several shortstops available in free agency, are you committed to Bichette there? 

Yeah, I mean he was unbelievable. I think I said it a lot last year, he's such an easy guy to bet on and believe in, as someone who's going to improve, and I think he's just scratching the surface. It was every day, it looked like, that he was making strides and progress, and his foundation was super strong. So that says a lot. But we are obviously committed to him and believe in him, and believe he's going to be a very, very good major league shortstop for a long time.

But we're open to acquiring other guys who have played a lot of shortstop, as you saw last year.

Early in the season there was talk among fans and media about moving Bichette of shortstop and letting Semien take the reins, and I think we can all be very happy that the Jays themselves paid none of that any mind. Bichette might not be prime Andrelton Simmons out there, defensively, but Atkins isn’t wrong about the strides that he made as a shortstop over the course of the season. I think we can all be comfortable with him there going forward.

That does mean that the Jays will miss out on the bonanza of top free agent shortstops available this winter? It sure seems like it. But given the years that some of those guys had, and the dollars and term they’ll command, I’m not sure that’s the worst thing in the world. Not to keep harping on one name, but getting Ramírez for a couple years certainly would fit what they’re doing a little better anyway, wouldn’t it?

Are there any changes to the coaching staff coming?

No, they'll all be back. And that is, again, it's just a testament to Charlie's leadership, to the work that they've put in from three years ago. And, obviously, there are several of them that have been here a lot longer than three years. But they put our players in positions to improve and that is a lot to ask at this level — it's not just putting them in positions to have good performances, it's putting them in positions to get better. We are exceptionally pleased with all of them. We'll think about if there's ways to tweak job descriptions and help improve upon what is here, but they will all be invited back.

Ah, finally! The question that had to be asked, even though we all could have told you what the answer was going to be. Excellent work by Benny Fresh to get this one in under the wire.

As for what Atkins said, it’s absolutely no surprise here that the manager who guided this team to 91 wins despite playing exclusively on the road for nearly four months is going to be back. What’s more interesting, however, is that he seems to be saying that one of the things that fans have disliked the most about Montoyo’s — aka CharlieCorp (TM)’s — style is entirely by design and encouraged by a front office that is very, very obviously in the background of every decision much more than those who would really just prefer to hate one bongo-playing guy seem to appreciate.

They don’t want him managing every game like it’s the seventh game of the World Series. They probably even have a bunch of research that’s leads them in that direction. My advice would be to just make peace with it already.

How do the upcoming CBA negotiations affect the way you'll approach the off-season?

That is a part of what we're spending time on internally, and then we're also spending a lot of time talking to Major League Baseball. What that could mean for us? What are the different scenarios, hypothetical or more concrete, that we should be thinking about? And then as we have dialogue with agents we'll get a better understanding as well. There may be a point where we have to make a decision with a little bit of uncertainty, and at that point we'll have the support, we know, to do that, and will factor in that risk if necessary.

We’ll end on a surprisingly uplifting note, as Atkins really doesn’t seem especially concerned about the upcoming labour war that those of us who pay attention to those things have spent the last several years fretting about. Obviously that doesn’t mean that the CBA negotiations can’t still derail the off-season, and we’ve all already seen some sabre-rattling on the part of MLB, which definitely seemed a bit ominous. But it sounds like it’s business-almost-as-usual for the Jays’ front office, and wouldn’t that sure be nice?

The league and the players managing to have hard fought negotiations where neither side comes out happy but they don’t actually manage to destroy the thing they’re fighting over in the process? Dare to dream, I say.

(Pay the players fairly, I also say. Especially the minor leaguers!)