Interpreting 10 key quotes from Blue Jays GM Ross Atkins

October 9th, 2023

This story was excerpted from Keegan Matheson’s Blue Jays Beat newsletter. To read the full newsletter, click here. And subscribe to get it regularly in your inbox.

What a week. 

The days following a postseason loss can create the room to exhale and turn a hopeful eye to next spring, but that hasn’t happened in Toronto. Instead, the frustrations from fans -- and questions -- have only grown. 

The Blue Jays’ Game 2 loss to the Twins is one we’ll talk about for years, right alongside the 2022 collapse at home against the Mariners. A decade from now, “José Berríos for Yusei Kikuchi” might still cause you to wince. The turn to the ‘24 season will be long, slow and contentious after the past week’s heartbreak. 

Saturday morning, general manager Ross Atkins held his year-end press conference.

These 10 quotes stood out.

1. “When that decision occurred, I found out about it when you did.” “John Schneider made that decision to deploy that, and that’s what occurred.”
These were the early bombshells. For an organization that has preached collaboration for years, it was shocking to hear Atkins point the decision to lift Berríos directly back to manager John Schneider and his staff, which set the stage for everything that followed.

2. “I was surprised he was coming out.”
Taking this a step further, Atkins insisted that there was no pressure from the front office on Schneider and his staff to make this move. When asked about past precedent for a move this rare and controversial, Atkins said: “I don’t know if I’ve ever seen that.”

3. “Yes.” John Schneider will be back.
This was the natural next question, given how this press conference opened. Schneider deserves to be part of the solution for the Blue Jays and should be given the opportunity to develop within this job. From here, it’s about how Schneider reacts to the Wild Card loss and the unexpected drama that’s followed. 

4. “This is as tough a moment in my career as I’ve ever had.”
When it came to Atkins’ emotions, he was honest. Frustrations are high within this organization, all involved understanding that repeated exits like these lead to certain decisions being made. 

5. “I expressed my faith in that turning based on history, based on some of the contact quality that we saw. Now, I can no longer rest on that belief. Now, I have to find a solution.”
If you’re looking for something refreshing to grasp for, this is it. Blue Jays fans grew frustrated throughout the season -- and rightfully so -- because the offensive results remained largely the same despite belief from the organization that it would improve. Vladimir Guerrero Jr. is the best example of this. Significant work needs to be done and another rebrand could be in order for this lineup.

6. “That led us to an outcome where we allowed two runs in a playoff game. We see that, from a run-prevention standpoint, as a solid outcome and a good chance to win a game.”
The offense had its issues, but the Blue Jays’ pitching staff was excellent all season. Blue Jays fans won’t want to hear about a two-run performance in Game 2, because of how it happened, but this was Atkins’ way of pointing the spotlight back to the bats. This isn’t an “either or” situation. The Berríos decision will hang over this team for months, but the second, separate issue here is that this team scored one run in two games.

7. “When a pitcher of his success is optioned, it’s a very difficult thing to stomach and he disagreed with that decision. That created some frustration.”
Finally, some public comments that shed light on the Alek Manoah situation. This felt like a lost season for Manoah, and while the Blue Jays are optimistic he can return to the rotation in 2024, there is clearly a relationship that needs some repairing. 

8. “No, he has not asked for a trade and we are focused on solutions with him.”
Well, that’s a start. Manoah has the opportunity to write an incredible comeback story if this whole thing turns itself around, but what happens if there’s turbulence again? This story is far from over.

9. “Those guys are alternatives. I was mentioning them as alternatives to fill those voids.”
Early in his press conference, Atkins mentioned Kevin Kiermaier, Matt Chapman and Brandon Belt in the past tense. He later corrected his comments by adding this context, but it’s clear the Blue Jays have several positions to fill this offseason. 

10. “... [Alan] Roden in Double-A has been remarkable.”
Atkins sprinkled in this line at the end of a long list of internal candidates, and it matters. No. 7 prospect Alan Roden hit .317 with a .430 on-base percentage between High-A and Double-A this season. Expect him to start in Triple-A, but the Blue Jays have grown infatuated with what Roden could potentially bring. If the early months go well, he’s a very real option.