Atkins outlines Blue Jays' offseason after 'disappointing' postseason

October 11th, 2022

TORONTO -- There’s a lot left to reconcile between how things started and how they ended for the Blue Jays this season. But emerging through the disappointment is the confidence that John Schneider can continue to lead this group to better days.

Without making any firm commitments, Blue Jays general manager Ross Atkins indicated that Schneider has put himself in a good position to return as manager next year, this time without the “interim” tag.

“I feel very confident about the job that he has done, and I think it will be very difficult for us to find better than John Schneider,” said Atkins during his end-of-year availability on Tuesday. “But out of respect for the organization, out of respect for John Schneider, I do want time to work through the process with him.”

Based on what the Blue Jays planned to accomplish this season, Atkins’ availability happened a bit too soon. Even through a year of inconsistencies -- which eventually led to the replacement of manager Charlie Montoyo with Schneider -- the expectation of a deep October run was palpable. But a shutout loss to the Mariners in Game 1 of the Wild Card Series and a well-documented meltdown in Game 2 swiftly put an end to Toronto’s campaign.

Amid unsuccessful decisions -- namely pulling Kevin Gausman for Tim Mayza with two outs and the bases loaded in the sixth inning of Game 2 -- Schneider didn’t necessarily come away unscathed. But he still has the trust of the front office.

“We sat here five days ago and felt very good about us making a deep run and were confident that we had a team to do it, and we did,” said Atkins. “So that was a disappointing outcome for us on Saturday.

“Believe me, when things don't work, we're human. We don't just go, ‘Oh, well.’ We [went through] the process, we’re as crushed as our fans are.”

The focus now is to use the gift of hindsight and learn from what went wrong. That starts with fine-tuning Toronto’s core and ensuring this team can achieve some elusive consistency on both ends of the ball.

Atkins and the Blue Jays still believe that the core is talented enough to win championships. With the vast majority of the team’s players expected to return next season -- the main exception being righty Ross Stripling, who’s headed for free agency -- Toronto will have to get creative if it is to add a premium free agent or trade piece this offseason.

That would continue the trend that saw the club add stars like George Springer, Hyun Jin Ryu and Gausman over the past few years, and the front office anticipates still having the resources to be active, despite an increasingly larger payroll.

“We've had nothing but support and a lot of flexibility from day one,” said Atkins. “We've always had a strategy with the resources that we requested and have always been granted them. … The first step will be working through where the opportunities are and exactly what we feel the needs will be.”

The pending areas of improvement are familiar ones for the Blue Jays: Starting and relief pitching and an impact left-handed bat. The first two categories present some interesting internal candidates, like Ricky Tiedemann (Toronto’s No. 1 prospect) and Yosver Zulueta (Toronto’s No. 5 prospect), but Atkins has indicated that the club is looking outwardly as well.

Looming large is also the question of whether or not Springer will be able to remain at center field in the long term. The 33-year-old is taking several ailments into the offseason, including a concussion and a shoulder sprain, as well as a bone spur in his right elbow that will most likely require a procedure to remove it.

Pair all that with the increased urgency of reaching long-term deals with some young superstars, and the Blue Jays seem to be headed for another busy offseason.

Vladimir Guerrero Jr. is entering his second year of arbitration and Bo Bichette will become arbitration-eligible next year. Teoscar Hernández will be a free agent in 2024, with Danny Jansen right behind him in ‘25. And though Alek Manoah and Alejandro Kirk are still in their pre-arbitration years, their stellar seasons have also added pressure to this front office.

“There will be urgency there, but there has [always] been urgency there,” said Atkins. “So that dialogue will continue. Some of the groundwork is laid, and that increases the likelihood [of a deal] in our view.”

The most pressing deal still seems to be on the managerial front, though. At least on paper, the Blue Jays seem to have a decent head start there.

Pete Walker pleads guilty to reckless driving

Blue Jays pitching coach Pete Walker on Tuesday entered a guilty plea on his charges of reckless driving, according to court documents released by the Pinellas County Courthouse. Walker was arrested in Oldsmar, Fla., in late March and charged with a DUI, which was later reduced to a reckless-driving charge.

The 53-year-old Walker was sentenced to 40 hours of community service, along with a fine and six months' probation.