Sports media coverage is sometimes maddening. Even more so when you’re the general manager of a team in one of the biggest North American cities that’s also starved for success. After roster suggestions from family, friends, his barber, random people on the street, and scrolling through Twitter on one of his four ghost accounts, Ross Atkins has long reached his breaking point.
He woke up on a Friday morning in December, vowing not to talk, think, or consume any baseball thoughts. It’s going to be a peaceful day. He brushes his teeth, takes a look at himself and then uses the sharpie he has sitting on his sink to scrawl “everything is fine,” his mantra of the day, on the bathroom mirror.
He looks at his other thoughts over the past few weeks “Stand pat,” “trust the process,” and “stay the course.” He needs to get out of the house.
“It’s not easy being me,” Ross Atkins thinks to himself, speeding down the highway. His second full season as GM of the Toronto Blue Jays wasn’t a fun one. Most of his team got hurt, underperformed, or did a mixture of both and finished the season with just 76 wins.
For the Blue Jays, the stove has been as cold as the December air in Toronto. Other than a trade for infielder Aledmys Diaz hours after non-tendering Ryan Goins and Tom Koehler, there hasn’t been much action for them.
Atkins turns on his radio in an attempt to calm his nerves.
“Angels land both Shohei Otani and Zack Coz-”
“Yankees acquire Giancarlo Stanton in massiv-”
“Dee Gordon to play centre field for Marniers”
Atkins punches the dial, shutting off the radio, opting to listen to the engine of his car hum as it flies down the pavement. The silence is deafening. Instead of wonder why there were so many radio stations in the city all talking about baseball at the same time, his mind shifts to those three teams. The wildcard race in the American League is getting harder, as teams in the mix start to drastically improve their chances of playing baseball in October. He can feel the tension in the fanbase as the city braces for another playoff drought.
His team risks being in the same spot they were in 2017 if they don’t make a move. Both the Yankees and Red Sox seem to be a powerhouse in the American League East, and the Rays look like they’re going to finish near the bottom with the Orioles. Atkins knows he needs to act fast and do something to prevent another underwhelming season. But what?
There’s a delicate balance that goes into assembling a competitive baseball team. Being too aggressive with contracts and the way you manage your prospects could lead to crippling contracts or a dry farm system, preventing any success for the foreseeable future. Being conservative and stockpiling young players sets you up for heartbreak when they don’t all pan out. Sure, you won’t be the laughing stock of the league, but nobody loves being stuck in mediocrity.
He doesn’t know what to do. He’s tired of the incessant complaining from fans and media alike. Instead of being forced into getting fleeced by a GM a la Billy Beane in November 2014, he decides to take things into his own hands.
He’s going to take skills from Blue Jays present and past to create a super-player with the best mind, left and right arms, patience, power, legs, throwing arm, and glove.
The one catch is, he can only use each player once and they have to be known as a Blue Jay (min. three seasons), meaning stars that have had a short stint north of the border aren’t eligible. Sorry Rickey Henderson, Roger Clemens, and Paul Molitor.
Mind — Marcus Stroman
The word hubris can be defined as “excessive pride or self-confidence,” does that ring a bell?
What’s the point of crafting the perfect player if they don’t even believe in the skills they have? Marcus Stroman is probably Marcus Stroman’s number one fan, but you need somebody that blurs the line between confident and cocky. The 26-year-old right hander will probably never take no for an answer, even when it seems like his goals are as far-fetched as tearing your ACL and then returning months later to join a pennant race. Oh wait…
Honourable mentions include Roy Halladay and his Hall of Fame work ethic, as well as the composed closers Tom Henke and Roberto Osuna.
Right Arm — Roy Halladay
This was an easy pick.
Halladay spent 11 full seasons as a Blue Jay, finishing top-five in Cy Young five times, winning it in 2003. In the ten seasons from 2000-2009, Halladay threw 47 complete games, nine more than second-place Livan Hernandez.
He was often the lone bright spot on a number of underwhelming Blue Jays teams. But no matter where they were in the standings, Halladay’s dominance made every fifth day special. Someday, his plaque will be in Cooperstown, NY and hopefully he’ll be wearing a Blue Jays cap.
Honourable mentions go to seven-time all-star Dave Stieb, who was one of the best pitchers of the 1980s and Tom Henke (again).
Left Arm — Jimmy Key
Key was drafted by the Jays in the third round in 1982 and made his MLB debut two years later. He made 250 starts over nine seasons for the club, more than any lefty in Blue Jays history. Over that time, he had an ERA of 3.42, which ties Dave Stieb for the lowest ERA in a Blue Jays uniform by any starter with at least 500 innings pitched.
Blue Jays fans will remember him most for his effort in the 1992 World Series. Key surrendered just one run over 7.2 innings, scattering five hits, giving the Blue Jays a 3-1 series lead. The pitcher on the other side? Hall of Famer Tom Glavine.
Key came in for relief in Game 6 and Toronto won their first World Series three days later in Atlanta.
Honorable mention here is Brett Cecil, who posted a 3.04 ERA and struck out over 11 batters per nine innings as a member of the Blue Jays bullpen.
Patience — Jose Bautista
Does Jose Bautista have patience? You tell me.
Does Jose Bautista have plate discipline? He sure does.
Jose Bautista is known for being a strike zone connoisseur. That’s a nice way of saying that he usually knows where the zone is and when you’re wrong, he’ll let you hear about it. Since Bautista turned elite in the 2010 season, he’s put up a 15.5% walk rate, which is second to only to Joey Votto. In three separate seasons, he’s walked more times than he has struck out. In fact, in this decade, there have been only 12 instances in which a player has struck out less than 120 times and walked more than 100. Jose Bautista has four of them. The other names on that list: Votto, Bryce Harper, Josh Donaldson, the Brewers version of Prince Fielder, Miguel Cabrera, the Cardinals version of Albert Pujols, and (somehow) Daric Barton.
You know it’s hard to beat Jose Bautista. Sometimes he’ll just battle you for six minutes, twenty-three seconds in a ten-pitch at-bat that prompts two mound meetings.
Honourable mention goes to John Olerud, who was a large part in the back-to-back World Series wins and walked much more than he struck out. His 1.20 BB/K is still tops in Blue Jays franchise history.
Power — Carlos Delgado
No Blue Jays player had the combination of longevity and elite play like Carlos Delgado. Blue Jays fans remember that sweet lefty swing and getting many souvenirs from the Puerto Rican slugger. He ranks second all time in games played with 1423 and first in home runs with 336.
After being drafted as a catcher and a failed conversion to left field, he stuck as a 1B/DH. Like another Blue Jays legend in Halladay, Delgado handled his demotion to Triple-A Syracuse well. He came back in 1996 as a 24-year-old and stayed for good, slashing .286/.397/.565 and winning three Silver Sluggers (1999, 2000, 2003) and a Hank Aaron Award (2000) until his final season in Toronto in 2004.
Honourable mentions go to Edwin Encarnacion, who like Bautista, re-invented himself in Toronto and became a primer slugger as well as Josh Donaldson, who in three years in Toronto has hit 111 home runs. Both will probably join Carlos Delgado on the Level of Excellence someday.
Legs — Devon White
The fact that Devon White stole 126 over five seasons as a Blue Jay is impressive, but it doesn’t rank him top-five all time in franchise history and it isn’t why he’s on this list. Rather, it’s the ground he covered defensively. White was affectionately known as a gazelle by Blue Jays fans and you could tell why just by watching him patrol centre field at the SkyDome. He started the most iconic play in Blue Jays history that wasn’t a home run.
Honourable mentions go to Lloyd Moseby and Roberto Alomar.
Arm — Jesse Barfield
Just watch this throw from the man with 162 career outfield assists. No hop, perfect strike, it’s just a cannon.
Honourable mentions go to Jose Bautista (pre-Delmon Young throw) and Raul Mondesi.
Glove — Roberto Alomar
The Hall of Famer could have appeared many times on this list, but his glove is a big part of the reason why he was immortalized in Cooperstown in 2011.
While Alomar only spent five years in Toronto, he’s known as an all-time Blue Jay, even having his number 12 retired by the club days after the Hall of Fame ceremony. Alomar was a star defensively at second base, winning gold gloves in each of his seasons in Toronto.
Many fans of the game, especially during the era Alomar played in, use errors and fielding percentage to gauge a player’s defensive skill. Sure, Alomar had a fielding percentage in the high .900s in each of his years in Toronto, but fielding percentage measures the ability to convert an out the player should have made. The reason Alomar had fans in awe wasn’t because he made the plays he was supposed to; it was because he found ways to defy logic to sometimes make the ones that nobody thought was possible.
Honourable mention goes to John McDonald.
Now that they have a super-player with the capability of hitting 45 home runs a season, drawing 100+ walks, stealing 30 bases, and throwing over 400 innings a year, the Blue Jays should be in at least the wild card hunt come September. Or maybe it all goes sideways again, and this FrankenJay hits the DL in the spring and doesn’t suit up the entire season.
Either way, Ross Atkins just bought himself a month of bliss.
Lead Photo: Nick Turchiaro-USA TODAY Sports