MLB: Toronto Blue Jays-Press Conference

Ross Atkins Speaks: Change to Gibbons Contract, Pitching, Pompey, and More

Sunday night, Sirius XM’s MLB Network’s Spring Training Tour reached Dunedin and the Blue Jays camp. As part of that program MLB Network hosts Todd Hollandsworth & Steve Phillips interviewed new Toronto GM, Ross Atkins. You can listen to the Gibbons portion of the audio here, but I’ve pulled a few extra notable quotes to come out of the short, five minute interview.

  • Steve Phillips – In John Gibbons, you have a manager that you and Mark inherited. A guy that we both know; I go back to the Mets organization with Gibby, and he’s as easy a guy to get along with as there is, and you guys are too, so it’s a nice fit in that way. But philosophically his deal in the past used to be the rolling year, where he’d never be a lame duck. Is that structure something that is part of your thought process going forward, or is it something that you’ll address things as time goes on?
  • Ross Atkins – No, we’ve already addressed that. That’s already come out of his contract. That’s the short answer, but not taking anything away from what it was. I think every situation is different. Gibby has been unbelievable, I love being around him, I can see why players trust and respect him. He’s an extremely consistent human being, with great values and morals. And really has set a nice tone here. He’s obviously a good decision maker, and handles himself great in pressure situations.

This was easily the most interesting subject touched upon in the entire interview. Gibbons thus has 2 seasons left on his contract, 2016 and 2017, which was picked up on January 1st. Starting next January 1st, Gibbons won’t have the rolling option available in his contract.

Once the Gibbons talk was exhausted, Hollandsworth moved the discussion to how to better the team on the field:

  • Todd Hollandsworth – In spring training, if we wanted to accomplish THIS, what would that be, and is there some tweaking that maybe needs to happen.
  • Atkins – Yeah, we wanted to make sure we had enough depth for our pitching. I think throughout the offseason the acquisitions that Mark and Tony made before I was here in Happ, & Estrada the trade for Chavez, and then adding some more pieces to that, the trade for Storen, the acquisition of Gavin Floyd and some of the other minor league free agents. We feel good about our starting options. We feel good about the depth of our bullpen. We need to continue to be creative, to not stop thinking that that’s going to be OK for the rest of the year. It’s not too often you go through the season with five starters. I think the last time that happened was five years ago. We’re going to need depth and that was our goal through the off-season and into spring training. I will say, what I’ve been really encouraged by is the depth in the minor leagues. I have really been impressed with 1) that there is some talent, but even more impressed with how they carried themselves here in the major league environment. From Conner Greene & Reid-Foley (who wasn’t here), guys like Anthony Alford & Richie Urena. Wow Dalton Pompey’s gonna be a great player, there are very good pieces in this organization.

The Blue Jays are coming off a season where they gave 10 starts to the collection of Felix Doubront, Scott Copeland, Matt Boyd & Todd Redmond, where they contributed a piddling -2.1 WARP. It’s clear that pitching depth was a major area of concern for the Jays coming into this off-season. While acquisitions at the top of the roster are much more glamorous, it’s quite possible that the Jays could improve just as much by replacing the detritus on the back end of the roster with merely replacement level players.

Since there are so many more players available to target by taking this approach to team building, it’s much less likely that a team will wind up in a bidding war. As a result this tends to be much more economical, and given Shapiro & Atkins previous tenure was with the small budget Indians, it’s hardly surprising that’s the approach they would focus most upon. So far, the results seem to be pretty good.

  • Hollandsworth – Michael Saunders, it’s kind of the one spot on your team where there’s a bit of a position battle. My guess is you wanted to make sure that Saunders was completely healthy. He’s come into camp, he’s had a really strong camp offensively. Pompey’s going back to Triple A, is that for playing time?
  • Atkins – Yah, I think for Dalton it’s more about foundation for him. The guys that are coming and going, the old adage you wanna get there and stay. Dalton’s probably heard that way too much. So it’s about how do you give him the best foundation to deal with the struggles of a major league season, the ups and downs. The best place for him to get that foundation is in the minor leagues not in the major leagues. Yes it is about playing time, but it’s also about he has also moved quickly, and there’s been a lot asked of him. He’s a great player, I get it. He’s gonna be special, he really is. I have a lot of confidence in saying that.  Saunders has been awesome. Dealing with the rumours of a trade, handling the expectations of coming off of this injury. Not only has he looked good, but his commitment and his drive of ‘this is going to be the best trade rumour that never happened.’ We’re really encouraged by him, and to think that he is just an addition to this lineup is remarkable.

The measured approach being taken with Dalton Pompey stands directly in contrast with how the Jays threw him into the fire at the beginning of the 2015 season, and links back to the previous point I made about moral hazard. It’s interesting to see the different approaches that a front office with years of security under their belt takes, as opposed to someone like Alex Anthopoulos, who came into the 2015 season with an immense amount of pressure to perform. Rather than letting the team’s situation dictate whether Pompey would be forced into major league duty, Atkins and seems to be taking the more measured approach, and is instead letting Pompey’s performance be the deciding factor. I firmly believe that in previous years the team would’ve taken the marginal upgrade by having Pompey serve as the team’s 4th outfielder, and I believe this approach will be much more advantageous for both Pompey & the club in the long term.

Those were the main takeaways from Atkins’ discussion with Hollandsworth. It will be interesting to see how this relationship between general manager and the media evolves over time. With Alex Anthopoulos, he learned that he could say a bit more, but also ended up rounding into even more doublespeak. We’ll be watching Mr. Atkins closely.

Lead Photo: Dan Hamilton-USA TODAY Sports


Note: This article previously stated that John Gibbons could be a lame duck manager in 2016, depending on when the clause was removed. This has been corrected, as Gibbons’ contract has been renegotiated to end after the 2017, with a slight pay bump for Gibby. The same analysis from the piece still applies to next season, which would not have been the case if the rollover option was still intact. 

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